Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Month at a Glance: January

This past weekend as we were driving home from a family day trip, S announced from the backseat that he was inventing a new holiday. He's calling it Kid's Day. On Kid's Day, he explained, we will cut herbs and cut playdough, and use scissors...and he would like me to make special snacks. My heart melted a little as my son conjured up a reason to celebrate. My son who needs no reason to celebrate at all, but can recognize the value and status in a holiday or special occasion. I can remember how the natural rhythm of holidays and seasons marked my own years growing up. There was great comfort in the cycle of time passing through the lens of celebration. On the secular calendar, January marks the beginning of the year. On the Jewish calendar, the new year is months behind us. The festive lights of Chanukah have dimmed to a memory and this is somewhat of a slower season. This week we will celebrate Tu B'Shevat, a minor holiday honoring the first budding of trees in Israel, while here most trees are still dormant and bare. Nonetheless, this new year of the trees falls right in the middle of our Winter for a reason. It is a gentle nudge from deep beneath the frozen layers of soil that life is still there--that growth is still happening even when we can least tap into it.
January here is a smorgasbord of weather--one week we are blanketed in the white fluff of freshly fallen snow, huddled up inside to avoid single degree temperatures. A week later, we are out with no coats at all chasing away the hours in our play garden. January is a month of ins and outs. We are indoors, craving to be out again. Then we spend invest a solid twenty minutes bundling up to get out only to come right back in again, disrobe, and repeat! Inspired by S's need to find and create the celebration in each day and season, I'm beginning a series of Month at a Glance posts this year. It's your monthly one-stop-shopping for our favorite in-season activities--ways to appreciate and celebrate the moment whatever the weather!

I often muse that if a parent wishes to introduce one "educational" activity to meet all of the developmental needs of a child under 5, sensory play is your guy! Sensory play engages young children, encourages abstract and critical thinking, introduces vocabulary and language development, mathematical concepts, science, fine motor and gross motor skills, spacial awareness and more... It's a great way to bring the outdoors inside when conditions are not conducive to outdoor play. A few of our favorites this month were:

Arctic Slime! We jumped on the slime bandwagon this month and had repeated play sessions with this fascinating play medium! Perfect for a snowy day or rainy day or any day at all...
When it was too cold to play outside in the snow, we played inside in the snow! Both boys had a blast playing, shaping (um, eating by one brother...) and painting the snow in our sensory bin. The best part of playing in the snow in your kitchen is the shortened distance between chilly hands and warming up with a cup of cocoa!

For a warmer version of snow play when snow is not available, we love this baby-safe sensory bin. We used mashed potato flakes along with some favorite forest friends and a couple of toy sleds for this story stretcher activity with the book red sled by Lita Judge

When the winter doldrums have you longing for the beach, this simple sand table with a selection of rocks, a few pouring bowls, a scoop and a large paint brush is the perfect reminder of summer days. S likes to make "ice cream" in the sand table. Something about sand play is so peaceful and relaxing. It is also a versatile sensory play medium that can be used with a variety of tools and add-ins, or even on its own. S does pretty well with a reminder to keep what's in the bin in the bin, but I also keep a dust brush and dustpan attached to the bottom of our sensory table for easy clean-up when spills happen.
 Books and reading are a year round endeavor here. We read in all kinds of weather, outside, inside and even at the library!
We have lately been on a Jan Brett kick, particularly enthralled with some of her well known winter books like The Hat, The Mitten and The Three Snow Bears. S and Y had fun using a selection of forest animal stickers to decorate our own set of paper white mittens. We also spent many a day playing with "tree blocks," a pair of white mittens and a selection of toy forest and arctic animals.

When we need a change of scenery, our local library is the place to be! We have a great library system here and frequently take advantage of story times, craft events and "just playing and looking at books."

At home, we got into some chapter books as read-alouds. To accompany and honor this newfound interest, we also got into making bookmarks! We have quite the collection now, many made by S and some made by me (mommies need hobbies, too!) and whenever we need to set a book aside for later, we head over to the bookmarks basket to grab one of our special creations. It definitely eases the transition of having to stop reading to go to sleep or go to school and it's a lovely way to save our spot until we can come back to reading later.

 January begs for a splash of color. In a season when we are more restricted to indoor play, I like our environment to encourage movement and inspire creativity. This colorful play area set up was the perfect way for both boys to engage in movement at their own developmental level while building, creating and exploring toys and materials through the lens of some favorite children's literature.

S explores color and fine motor skills with this basket of yarn scraps that he enjoys cutting. It's the perfect way to use leftover yarn. We recycle it for use in crafts/collage, sensory play and even outdoor activities...
 S has also taken to more loose parts play. As we have talked a bit about trees and Tu b'Shevat, I've been more mindful of talking about how we can help the trees that help us in so many ways. Children at this age do not inherently have an understanding of protecting natural resources. Through the addition of loose parts and "non-permanent" art materials in our art center, S has explored his ability to create artwork that can be created and recreated again and again. I do still keep glue and paper at our art center and we still make collages and permanent artwork. We even upcycle a lot of our artwork into new artwork. S is also learning to create and experience art using mirrors and recycled picture frames and arranging buttons, glass gems, and other interesting small items. When we work with paper, scissors and glue, we talk about using the whole page, or using scrap paper for cutting practice as opposed to a whole page. I do not disallow use of "new paper" for cutting practice as it is meaningful work, but I do encourage S to use the smaller pieces in a new way. We also keep a selection of interesting scrap paper, recycled magazines and greeting cards, even junk mail for cutting and gluing when the urge strikes.

Pipe cleaners and floral foam are another fascinating medium. We spent a morning building menorahs and lighting pipe cleaner candles, per S's lead. When this set-up became a bit stale, I swapped the craft foam out for some beads that S enjoys stringing on the pipe cleaners to make necklaces, bracelets, bookmarks and decorations. He has already made everyone in the family bracelets for Tu B'Shevat and a decoration for a tree!

Dramatic play is a big attraction at home after S spends the morning in school. Lately he is particularly into small world play using our "tree blocks" and other small loose parts like wooden peg dolls or toy/needle-felted animals, items collected from nature and some from indoors. I love seeing how he combines materials as he weaves a story to go along with it! I also recently purchased some silk scarves very inexpensively from a secondhand store after years of dreaming about play silks without the budget to necessarily support it. This was the best few bucks I've spent in a long time! Our play silks have become rivers and sunsets, tablecloths and doll blankets, a tichel, a bandaid, and dress up clothes of all sorts. My favorite spontaneous costume to date has been S dressing up as "a rainbow!"

When weather has permitted getting outdoors, our play garden has been the perfect haven for taking along some favorite small world materials and even art supplies.
 Remember that yarn we were cutting inside? It was just the perfect way to decorate "trees" (unique sticks and twigs we've found) outside and making "magic wands."

Y loves exploring the soft and colorful texture of these DIY ribbon dancers made from shower curtain rings and strips of ribbon in a variety of colors and textures. I keep a set outside in our play garden and another set inside.

 Both boys love exploring the mud kitchen in their own way. Tea parties are had, rock cakes are baked and music is always playing in the background as both boys explore the sound qualities of tin and copper....
Yes, I'm pretty sure our neighbors love us right about now!
S loves this tiny dinosaur world created with a collection of small gravel
and pebbles and plastic dinosaurs set inside of a foil pan. I poked a few holes in the bottom of the pan so rain water can drain out.
We also had a great time adding vibrant color to our walkway using chalk pastels. Our recycled frames made for a museum like work space as we doodled and designed. 

 I also started a Mommy and Me Cooking Club with S this month. It's a way for us to have an activity that is just for the two of us together. S is a somewhat particular eater as well. He may or may not try many new foods as we explore grocery aisles together, look up and try out new recipes. We are both learning a lot in our adventure toward trying out new foods and recipes. We had a blast taking a color scavenger hunt in a grocery store to find foods that are purple (that was S's idea) and he loves joining me in the kitchen as we plan, prepare and serve new recipes. He's tried a few new things and perhaps not yet found any favorite new foods, but all the way we are enjoying each other's company and the many skills that are cultivated through culinary experience!

To feed a need for some green, living, breathing (and tasty) foliage this time of year, we selected some herbs to grow in our kitchen window. My husband picked out some planters that can be mounted on the wall and although not all our herbs are exactly thriving right now, the ones that are add flavor and joy to our kitchen and our plates. Even staying hydrated is more fun with a slice of lime and a sprig of freshly cut mint--in January!

January may be a month of ins and outs here, but we roll with it! Sometimes that less predictable weather is a blessing; if you don't like the weather now, wait five minutes!
Sometimes the absence of major holidays is also a blessing. It allows us to slow down and spend longer stretches of time engaged in play, creating or simply reading a great book. It allows us to remember that every moment can be celebrated, whether it's a holiday or just a "regular day." In the last two days alone, we've seen rain, hail, snow and sunshine. We are ready for whatever this afternoon holds and so, too, we are ready for the new month ahead! For those who are celebrating, happy Tu B'Shevat--may this time of year find you rooted in the comforts of family and home while branching out toward new adventures as the opportunity strikes. We'll be back soon and until then...

Happy Playing

Monday, January 22, 2018

An Updated Peek in Our Play Garden

 Yesterday, I posted about my favorite take-alongs to inspire outdoor play in children (and adults!) and today, I invite you to our little apartment front yard for a peek into our play garden. I know, I know...January is not a month that makes you think about outdoor play or gardens, for that matter. Indeed, our weather has taken us through multiple seasons in the course of one week! I spent a chunk of time clearing the remains of our unplanned tomato forest out of the garden while the boys were resting yesterday (and we are very likely going to have another tomato forest this summer with all the tomatoes that went to seed!). My husband took Y to do the grocery shopping and I spent some time at home with just S. He was ecstatic! While we both take turns going out with the boys one on one, for S, an afternoon at home with just me was like hitting the jackpot. We decided to start by playing outside. He put on a tie for the occasion. I let him lead the play and even lead the way as we "walked hula hoops" that became a dog and a cat and traveled around our neighborhood. When it comes to outdoor play, everything you need is truly already there. Anything you add is icing on the cake.

In the Spring and Summer, our play is more about water and bubbles and creating potions and mud pies. In the Autumn and Winter, our play is more about foraging and collecting. All seasons can inspire movement and exploration. Use of loose parts both found in nature and from around the house can inspire a world of play outdoors. Hula hoops and gardening tools might be likely residents in a family yard. I also include some less typical loose parts to the scene and watch in awe as the world of practicality and imagination collide...

 Baskets, containers, planting pots and tins provide a practical means of storing materials and also a way to collect and transport objects from place to place. As a little girl, I loved collecting leaves and grass inside a basket to make pretend salads. Tools like rakes and shovels and a pair of children's scissors are on the ready.
Some baskets and containers store our many treasures collected and found in nature, like pine cones, acorns, seed pods, rocks, sticks and interesting twigs... Even some of our tree cookies have made it outdoors for use in dramatic play or building activities.

One of S's very favorite outdoor "toys" is a child-sized broom I found at a secondhand store last year for a couple of dollars. He loves sweeping!
Around that time I also found a large ziplock bag of cookie cutters on sale secondhand and snatched it up for using with playdough and art. Then I wondered to myself what kind of play might happen outside and filled a basket with a selection of metal cookie cutters in our garden. I can already imagine how they might be used in the dirt and mud. Perhaps the animal shaped ones will be used in dramatic play. Perhaps Y will explore how they sound when clanked together...

S often uses the water table as a mud kitchen. Tea parties and baking cupcakes are popular outdoor activities. A selection of inexpensive bowls and baking tins found at a thrift store make for great dramatic play. They also are useful for collecting and transporting and (apologies in advance to our neighbors) make for a wonderfully thrilling sound garden when explored as musical instruments using large mixing spoons (recycled or purchased secondhand or at a discount store).

And who says Winter isn't a great season for outdoor play? Imagine the interesting ice shapes that could form from pouring water into one of these baking tins? Add in some leaves and pebbles, twigs and acorns...

A simple garland made from twine and clothes pins hangs against the wall of our staircase inviting little hands to hang leaves, flowers, perhaps some ribbon and fabric or a small tin can... It's really a lovely way to look at our "treasures," and a practical way to hang a leaf or flower to dry before bringing it indoors to use in artwork.

These are items that we leave in our play garden. Using materials from around the house or purchased secondhand is an economical way to inspire outdoor play while not breaking the bank and worrying about how the outdoor elements might take their tole. This is a great way to give thrift store purchases like baskets, baking pans and kitchenware a second life! Sometimes, we might still bring something interesting from indoors outside with us, like we did yesterday with this impromptu sidewalk art:

Chalk pastels that rarely get attention inside found new life on our front sidewalk along with some recycled picture frames (with the glass and back removed) to create our "work space." 

Setting up an inviting play garden definitely comes at a price: your little ones will probably have a hard time coming inside when it's time. That being said, the price doesn't have to affect your wallet. 

Happy Playing!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Quick and Easy Take-alongs to Inspire Outdoor Play in Children (and Adults)

We had an unseasonably warm and sunny day today (yes, this is just days after our last snowstorm shut down the whole town) and we took advantage of the weather and headed to our amazing local botanical gardens. We are fortunate to live in a location where such a venue is open year round. It may not be prime season, but there is still much to appreciate and explore. Like a rock with S's favorite letter, seed pods in abundance, trees for climbing, dirt and sand to play and explore in... Even as much of the living world lies dormant this time of year, our senses were alive with exploration. Exploring the outdoors with a mobile child often involves a lot of movement--fast movement. Chasing, even! But today, as we were running, skipping, zig-zagging like busy buzzy bees and jumping across the Children's Garden, S said something immensely sweet, innocent and profound: "Mommy, let's stop and look for a minute." And we did. We stopped. We looked. I waited and he gleefully shouted, "Ok, let's go!"

Last week I had a conversation with S's preschool director, a close friend of ours and also my own former supervisor. We were discussing getting children outdoors. As a teacher I was notorious for being the one to "take them out no matter what." Rainy days called for duck waddles across the parking lot. Snowy ones meant we bundled up and painted the playground with every color imaginable to three primary shades of food coloring mixed in water. And sunny, beautiful days? You'd better believe we were outside at least once in the course of our short time together, maybe even twice.

But here's my confession: Throughout my career as a teacher, outdoor time was often more of a time during which children played and I caught up on busy work or managed to sneak a snack while intermittently perusing the playground to visit with the children, support any issues of conflict or safety, and then recede to my adult-stance on the sidelines. And I know I missed a lot. A great deal of exploration, imagination and discovery. Opportunities to support risk-assessment, problem solving, critical thinking and social skill development. And even more--opportunities to join that world of wonder and play--something adults need, too! Sometimes there are aspects of our "stepping back" that are important to children, particularly in an outdoor setting. The child who discovers a cicada by watching a YouTube video has a different experience than the one who is directed by an adult outside saying "do you hear that buzzing sound? It's a cicada!" And the child who discovers a cicada shell shining in the sunlight on a sidewalk has a different experience altogether. All three experiences have value, but there is something altogether priceless about self-discovery.

And with my own children? My second confession is that we hardly get outside these days. I don't mean that we don't leave the house--we do! We go to the library, the store, the mall, museums...sometimes even playgrounds. But hardly ever do we go outside and just play. Some of this is due to time or extremely low temperatures. But a lot is due to laziness. I think of one of my favorite classic Oliver and Amanda Pig stories by Jean Van Leeuwen in which there is a snowstorm and Mother Pig spends an exorbitant amount of time and energy getting her two little pigs dressed and prepared for playing in the snow. At last, she sits those two marshmallow puffed bundles on the couch to go and get herself ready only to return and find them both undressed again. She bursts into tears before getting everyone dressed again and finally going outside. Oh, how I can relate to this story. And somehow, the investment of time and energy of getting a dozen children belonging to other adults ready to go out only to repeat it in reverse after coming back in does not feel nearly as ominous and handling my own little guys.

Well after hearing S's wise statement today and rethinking that brief conversation with his school principal last week, I revisited and reevaluated my own tendency to hole up indoors this time of year. I also thought about those years of "teaching from the sidelines" on the playground. While some children are inherently creative and exploratory outdoors, others need a little nudge to tap into the natural sense of wonder that nature can inspire. And with these simple outdoor take-alongs, you can easily support play with your own family outside or even a group of students. You do not need to spend a lot. You can use what you have on hand. You may just want to step away from the park bench and revisit your own childhood sense of wonder and exploration...

Here are a few of my favorite quick and easy take-alongs to inspire outdoor play in children:

Things for collecting and transporting materials: Recycled containers, small tin, plastic or hard glass jars (like from baby food), baskets and buckets in all sizes are great for collecting found objects and transporting them from place to place. I am in the process of revamping our play garden and will discuss in a future post how I utilize materials like this in our yard. For the sake of travel, a simple basket with a handle and/or a few smaller options can be great. You can recycle containers from food and produce, find baskets inexpensively at secondhand stores or purchase tins and jars very inexpensively at dollar stores or discount stores. S in particular enjoys collecting things in clear jars for Y to be able to safely observe and shake. You may even wish to bring along a bug container for collection of live critters (or a Bell jar with an open top will do). Secondhand pots, pans and dishes can also be great for collecting and transporting--not to mention the element of sound when they are gleefully banged together by an eager baby or toddler! 

Things for the purpose of observation: I love to bring along magnifying glasses or binoculars for observing and exploring parts of nature both far away and close up. Prisms and looking glasses can also add an interesting visual element. If you have a budding photographer, consider bringing along a camera. Even if you do not happen to have any of the above, recycled cardboard tubes make for great binoculars or telescopes.

Speaking of pictures... Recording outdoor adventures can come in many forms for children ranging developmentally as they grow from pre-writers to independent writers and artists. I rarely leave home without a little notepad and some colored pencils. Check out this post about using leaves and textures in nature along with paper and unwrapped broken crayons for nature rubbings. If you need more direction, you can try a color scavenger hunt or another nature-inspired scavenger hunt. You can see what happens if you all decide to stop and draw what you see. Sidewalk chalk is another great take-along and can be used on a variety of outdoor surfaces besides just the sidewalk.

Remember these DIY color cards? We still love toting these along with us, sometimes even adding in some clothes pins for collecting/attaching objects found in particular shades of a color.
Tools & supplies like tweezers, scissors, and masking tape can come in surprisingly handy! You never know when you might need to grasp the tiniest little objects with those tweezers. Scissor lovers reach a whole new level of enjoyment (and fine motor development) outside clipping grass, weeds, bushes and anything else you'll let them. Masking tape can be wrapped around a wrist, sticky side out, for collection of beautiful little fall leaves or spring wildflowers and instantly you have a lovely bracelet fit for a queen (or king). A small tin of leftover clay is great for taking along and making impromptu nature prints or sculptures...

Things I Keep in My Car: So I may or may not have been known to accidentally forget our diaper bag at home on occasion, but I almost always have a basket with a handle in my car and a towel or blanket. A basket is always handy for carrying along things we bring along or treasures we find along the way. A towel/blanket is handy for drying off wet play surfaces as well as for providing a place to sit upon for very little ones or older children who do not prefer to sit directly on grass.

Small world play and dramatic play outdoors? You bet! I made these little wooden peg dolls to add to our outdoor travel packs (and indoor play) and they had a great time on our botanical gardens visit today. S was absolutely enthralled with them, creating and telling stories in every area we explored.

How do I carry all this stuff? With just my own crew, I don't always bring everything along. I might pick one or two take-alongs. Today I only brought the peg dolls (that S dotingly named tree kinder). With a class or large group, I might bring a basket with a selection of take-alongs. My favorite way to store these is in pencil pouches. They can easily be stocked inside an old binder and there you have it, easy transport and easy access.

It goes without saying that the outdoor world needs no add-ons. And yet, adding in some interesting indoor tools, supplies and objects can really inspire and enhance outdoor play for children--and adults alike. Now to get my own little ones back outside before the sun goes down. We have to take these sunny Sundays as they come! 

Happy Playing!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Wondrous World of Child's Play

Chodesh Tov! Today is Rosh Chodesh Shevat, a Jewish month most commonly known for the minor holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the birthday of the trees! Just as we enter this month that welcomes Israel's first crops of Spring, we are in the midst of a Winter storm that closed schools for the day. Sometimes I think that popular adage about childhood's hours being long and years being short is entirely captured in the 24 hour course of one snow day! All of the excitement and potential when the early morning announcement arrives slowly gives way to the reality that there are still two hours before naptime and you're just about out of non-screen ways to fill them in your parental bag of tricks. And then, I remember the very best trick in my bag--a gift I give to my children and to myself each and every day that I can: the gift of play. No project, no craft, no agenda, no limits or goals or motives. Simple, unadulterated play. Play in which for just a little while, I leave my phone on the other side of the room if I can manage it. Play in which I simply sit on the rug, right alongside the boys, and enter their world. S in particular is very engaged now in dramatic play and story telling. This is the way in which he works through all the curiosities and anxieties of his world. Y is utterly thrilled to watch his brother and laugh, and when he can, to play along with him at his own level.

Today when the novelty of craft projects, stickers, playdough and a cooking activity had worn off, S went to the toy shelf and grabbed a set of baskets I'd filled with "tree blocks" (wooden circles and shapes cut from tree trunks that I snagged from a craft supply store that's going out of business) and some additional loose parts. What a perfect tree themed activity to welcome the month of Shevat!

 I set out a collection of tree/forest themed loose parts on our toy shelf over the weekend. I also added a basket of toy woodland creatures, a pair of white mittens and some  of our favorite winter themed Jan Brett books. S and Y love hearing the story of The Mitten and The Three Snow Bears and while I do plan a lot of structured story stretcher activities here, this was something I put out more just to see where it took us through natural play.
Yesterday, these baskets caught S's eye and he brought them to the rug to begin to play. He built a "tree forest" with "petals" (wood circles) and then added some animals to the scene.

As we played, he asked me to read The Mitten, and got very busy as we read filling the white mittens with all of our woodland creatures! Y had a blast playing alongside S and watching his story unfold. I spend some time sitting and observing. This is when S tests out new vocabulary words (sometimes accurately and other times not so much...) He might offer me a loose part or an idea to expand upon. Other times I might interject with my own idea. If he is resistant toward my input, I step back--this is his play and while there are many opportunities to work with and teach about social graces in shared play, sometimes it is important for children to have their own space in which to fully control the play scenario.
In fact, I think play is in and of itself a crucial space for children. It is the space in which they can be cast in the role of being in charge while still being nurtured. They can confront the biggest bear in the woods or grow a forest from seed in a matter of minutes. Size and time are irrelevant in this world. There is no waiting until you are bigger or waiting until something is ready or finished. Everything can happen in a moment and in that moment, nothing needs to happen at all.

Sitting with children in play feels like an invitation to have a private audience with royalty. It is truly a gift to be let in to their imagination and sense of wonder.  Sometimes I might expand on their play ideas if a child seems "stuck" or repeats a particular scenario over and over--and on the other hand, many times, I value the need for repetition in play. A child might repeat a play scenario that is enjoyable and familiar or he might repeat a play scenario as a means to work through a challenge or fear. Using loose parts and natural materials is a great way to open up a world of imaginative play. There are so many options when it comes to selecting toys and playthings, and many of them are incredible (while some I don't prefer). However, in this world of fast paced technology, not as many toys are open ended and encourage abstract thought. I am a strong believer in using what you have and not breaking the bank in the process. Less is almost always more and most children actually favor household items and non-toys. Loose parts play, or open ended play with small trinkets and materials is a great way to use what you have on hand--and trust me, even if you don't know what to do with loose parts, your children will!

To be quite honest, I have no clue what other people use these wood circles and shapes for! But in my living room, they became the Hebrew letter, dalet

...a telephone, a forest, a flying saucer, a table, an oven...

River rocks and glass gems became a playground with icy pathways leading from place to place... Trees were planted, Shabbat boxes were lost in the woods, and as our family peg dolls entered the scene, so did many of our other family scenarios... Suddenly we were back at the pumpkin patch we visited this past Autumn with S's preschool and we were picking pumpkins to cook and make muffins with!

I was so excited and impressed by S's ability to use what is in front of him abstractly and imaginatively! (Do other grown ups get as excited by play as I do???) And after a recent attempt to organize all of my craft supplies, I also knew I had some acrylic gems in Autumn shapes and colors stashed away upstairs that would be a perfect addition. Who says Winter and Autumn can't coincide in the Wondrous World of Child's Play?

And while we spend a lot of time trying to channel that childhood tendency to move from one idea to another like the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, play is a space in which it is perfectly acceptable to jump from idea to idea at lightening speed--or even to dwell on one idea for quite a while. Our play scene wrapped up when we discovered that some of the acrylic gems were beads and S wanted to make a necklace! We got some string, beaded an Autumn toned work of preschool art and before we knew it, it was nap-time!

Unless you happen to be this guy... Nope, no naps for him today. Luckily my husband is also home today so I can blog and caffeinate and gear up for an afternoon of snow day survival and happy playing!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Playtime Post: Taking (and Making) Rainbows Beyond the Book

I think we all have a little case of the winter doldrums here. Our snow has melted and temperatures are back to a subtropical 65 degrees, but until this week, we were pretty cooped up indoors. Between winter break and snow days, re-acclimating to preschool and "normal" routine has taken some time and extra TLC. When S asked to do a story stretcher about rainbows (after re-reading a favorite book of his and his brother's, What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Schwartz), I was game! And speaking of games--I felt like we all needed a little more playtime and movement in our day. So today's story stretcher will take us beyond the book of three of our favorite rainbow/colors themed children's books with an open play/gross motor twist! 

Our three target books are:

  • What Makes a Rainbow? A Magic Ribbon Book by Betty Schwartz. In this cute ribbon/pop-up book, a little rabbit asks his mother what makes a rainbow after a rainstorm ends. His mother encourages him to ask his colorful friends, and as each one responds, a ribbon of color is added to the rainbow. There is a beautiful pop-up ending that brings a smile to both my boys each and every time!
  • Alphaprints Colors by Jo Ryan, Sarah Powell and Pip Tinsley was a wonderful Chanukah gift to Y from my sister this year. We love the colorful illustrations and Y especially likes touching the unique textured pages. I particularly adore the illustrations that are made from fingerprints!
  • My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite ways to teach about the plethora of emotions we experience and move through in the course of a week or even a day (or sometimes even an hour). 
On some occasions, I formally introduce a book and sit and read with the boys. On other occasions, I like to strategically place them around our play area near a relevant activity. If S asks to read one, I certainly do. If the boys want to look at the books, they may and if they just want to play with the toys in that area or do an activity that is set up, that's fine, too!

In our rug area, I've set up a play space to entice both boys in the theme of My Many Colored Days.

In one area, I've set up our Grimm's Rainbow and some rainbow colored wooden peg dolls I painted. I want to invite the boys to play imaginatively and S in particular enjoys dramatic play with peg dolls. I am so excited to see how both boys, at their own level, will explore the variety of uses for a Grimm's Rainbow and these little peg dolls! When using peg dolls with very little ones, do make sure they are large enough not to pose a choking hazard and that you carefully supervise.

Across the span of the room, I tied a large piece of yarn between two chairs (better seen from the top photo) and affixed a rainbow of colored scarves to the garland using wooden clothes pins. Each of my boys are at very different stages of gross motor development. S and I can play a game of Rainbow Scarf Limbo and practice getting under the garland in different ways. Y has enjoyed sitting beneath the garland and grasping a pulling scarves from the clothespins! (That's the bonus of waking up from his nap while I was still setting up...)

Around the space, I've also set out a basket of colorful squeeze blocks, stacking rings, sensory balls, bean bags and giant pom poms to inspire a rainbow of ways to play using large and small muscles. Y had a blast not napping playing with the balls and stacking rings and exploring each of the discovery baskets around him. This layout really encouraged him to get moving at his own level, from seated to tummy to his back, pivoting and rotating to reach things that caught his interest. In related news, he's now napping again, so I also set up a few centers that will appeal more to S when he wakes up from his nap! (This sounds like a game of Whack a Mole...)

 For our art and fine motor component, I set out a What Makes a Rainbow? Station with Model Magic Clay to which I added blue glitter and a collection of rainbow colored pipe cleaners. For the sake of a photo, I demonstrated my own way of building a rainbow, however for S I have merely set out the materials and a blob of clay to encourage him to build a rainbow in his own way. Model Magic has the texture and viscosity of real clay and can air dry into a permanent work of art. Clay is a great fine motor tool for preschool aged children and up and truly works those tiny little hand muscles. When S is done with his rainbow sculpture, we will allow it to dry and be able to put it on display!

Our Alphaprints Colors station is aimed to inspire some fingerprint creations of our own! When S was about Y's age, we worked together to create an entire set of alphabet pictures using his fingerprints. Now that he is older, he can more independently create fingerprint art using this giant washable ink pad and a variety of artists' pencils. Y will need a bit of help from me and I think we will all have fun!

Finally, for a sensory component, I set up our sensory table with rainbow colored waterbeads and a variety of fine motor tools for scooping, transferring, squeezing and pinching. I added a bit of lavender and peppermint oil to the waterbeads as I love including the sense of smell in our sensory play experiences. I do not recommend using waterbeads with young toddlers and infants, however they are great fun for preschool aged children and if you do wish to explore this medium in a taste-safe way, you can make your own using basil seeds.

If your day is in need of a splash of color or a bit of movement, these activities are all great in conjunction or as stand alone stations. Here's to an afternoon of colorful fun and, as always, happy playing!