Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bring on the Pumpkin Spice, Autumn Apples and a Hurricane If You Must (An Updated Peek Into Our Playroom)

Shanah Tovah U'Mesukah from this
sweet little apple and honey bee!
 Ch-ch-ch-changes! S has returned to preschool for a new school year and we just finished celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Talk about busy, here! And that sense of the pace picking up is exactly what makes me feel like slowing down and stopping to smell the pumpkin spice. It's definitely still Summer out there (with a potential hurricane pending in the days to come), but Autumn is in the air (at least indoors). So whether you are hunkering down for a big storm, or just looking for some apple, pumpkin, or Autumn themed fun at home, we've got you covered!

With summer dwindling to an end, I began to make subtle changes to our play area. I realize I haven't posted in a while, and hopefully I'll get to backtrack a bit and share some great activities about sunflowers and bees that we did as part of our Sprout Scouts Playcamp. Our Nature Table is one of these new introductions. I set up a top shelf in one of our toy storage areas with a small world scene the boys could manipulate and explore. I included both natural loose parts (even the two mini gourds we managed to salvage from the squash bugs in our garden) and man made ones as well. The scene immediately drew both boys' attention, but it isn't meant to be merely a display--they are invited to play with it, add to it, change it and move things around the room at large for use in play and storytelling.

Speaking of storytelling, with school beginning and Rosh Hashanah starting just a few days later, I decided to spend an afternoon telling The Story of The Apple Star (available to print at Come Together Kids). S has seen this "trick" before but was still super excited to see the star magically appear inside our apple and Y was old enough this year to appreciate it as well. Nothing goes to waste in this house, especially not apples, so some of the results were used for snacking and some were used to fabric paint apple prints onto some new aprons for the boys to use during cooking and baking activities.

I strategically placed our toy Rosh Hashanah sets into our dramatic play area along with some toy apples and a makeshift felt apple pie play set. I rotated in some favorite Rosh Hashanah books and apple books as well. I find that the more subtle my play area updates are, the more they are appreciated. I rarely have to show the boys when something new is out, they almost always discover it with their usual excitement and glee! On occasion, S will ask about something that was out and got put away and I explain that it has been rotated out. If he felt strongly about having something back in the rotation right away, we certainly would, but usually it's just curiosity.

Our sensory table is a favorite area for both the boys right now. Our tree blocks made a reappearance along with some cinnamon sticks, toy apples, collected seed pods and objects found in nature and even the set of Seasons Dolls I painted last Winter. I thought S would get really into storytelling in this one, but he actually only played there once. Y loved it.

When I made another rotation a couple of weeks later and moved the tree blocks, natural loose parts and cinnamon sticks to the toy shelf, S was totally ready for small world play, carrying the baskets to the carpet and even inviting me and Y to play along! Sometimes location and setup is everything--you never know! That's why I always advice fellow parents and teachers that if an activity or setup does not capture your children's interest at first, either reintroduce it in a new setting or design or wait and try it again another time.

I'm also rarely glued to a singular vision of how I think my boys should or will play with things. I have my ideas and they have theirs--many times I am amazed and astounded!

As you can see, our Nature Table has shifted again. It's looking a little less like Summer and a little more like Autumn. Not everything is gone or different, in fact I intentionally returned some of the same objects as before in this new backdrop. I really couldn't help myself once I saw mini pumpkins and gourds go on sale, so now they have entered our small world play, infiltrated our dramatic play and kitchen set and even been turned into building blocks (at S's cue).

 They even showed up in our new "Autumn Soup" Sensory Bin, a lovely Autumn toned collection of dried beans and lentils along with some soup pots, empty spice bottles and toy kitchen utensil. I'm never completely sure my boys will take to a sensory bin I set up, but anything like dried beans, rice, lentils or corn is almost always a big hit. And yes, a big mess! But both boys are big fans of helping to sweep with the dust brush and dustpan I keep affixed to the side of our sensory table and one of them is even pretty good about keeping what's in the bin in the bin.

Needless to say, both boys have spent a great deal of time playing here in the past couple of days and hopefully it will continue to entertain them in the days to come, whether we get hit by this storm or not. A sensory bin filler like this is so versatile that even if this setup gets a bit stale, some funnels and scoops could be swapped in, perhaps some cardboard tubes and recycled containers, or even some Autumn shaped cookie cutters, and it would be like new again.

We're all about using and reusing what we have here and whether you're preparing for a big storm or just looking to add some Autumn themed fun into the coming days, here are some more activities that have kept us busy at play here over the last few weeks:

Playdough is always popular here! We used our usual recipe and added in some red food coloring and some cinnamon bark scent for this playdough invitation based on one of my favorite books, Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. I also included leaves from deconstructed dollar tree silk flowers, our toy apples (these were from a craft supply store a few years ago), cinnamon sticks and tree circles. Both the boys loved this setup and S decided to turn the page in the book and "make another page!"

A great playdough invitation is certainly worth repeating or you can swap in some other accessories for another way to play on the same theme. In the photo below, we added in cookie cutters, dishes, the same apples, cinnamon sticks and playdough along with some toy kitchen utensils for a Playdough Apple Bakeshop.

 S loved playing with a DIY felt apple pie set his teachers made in school. I decided to surprise him (and Y) with their own version to use at home over Rosh Hashanah so they wouldn't miss the playdough too much during the holiday.  I cut out some pie crust colored circles and strips, added in a selection of small green and red pompoms and two sets of tongs (yay for sneaking in that fine motor practice). I also set out some empty spice bottles, toy baking utensils and even a pom pom filled honey bottle. Even now that the holiday is over, they both still love baking and delivering pies!

While I never got to posting before Rosh Hashanah this year, the simple apple crafts we did would be a wonderful Autumn activity (or you can store in the vault for next year).

The boys have really taken to using chalk pastels on our chalkboard wall and on black paper (as have I!) so I set out an apple shaped piece of black card stock for them to color and a larger frame cut from scrapbook paper to glue it on. It was so simple and such a cute way to add a little festive flair to the new school year and the Jewish New Year!

The boys also really love wet coffee filter art so when I saw a post in one of my Facebook groups with coffee filter apples, I knew it was something we had to try. I set out some apple colored washable markers and used masking tape to attach a flattened white coffee filter to two trays. The boys colored away but the most desired part of this activity is always the spray bottle! S loves the spray bottle! He helped spray both coffee filters and they were set to dry. I cut the frames out of felt and glued everything together with hot glue before hanging our stained glass apples in the window.

 Transitions can be challenging and also quite beautiful. Just as Summer days give way to school days, so, too, do those sneaky leaves begin to change color and fall (even while it is still upward of 80 degrees here). There is a wistfulness as the Sprouts Scouts pack away for next Summer, but having a set routine truly helps us ease into the Autumn season with comfort and even a bit of excitement. I've learned the value in planning less, slowing down and engaging more with the boys. Rather than filling every moment of every hour, I've introduced an activity theme for each week day.

Monday: Story Time
Tuesday: Art
Wednesday: Play!
Thursday: Cooking/Baking
Friday: Tea Party
The activity we do under each theme is not necessarily the same each week. Yesterday, I thought we'd go to the park for Play! day and the boys were totally engaged with some of the new playthings at home, so we stayed in and played together. Story Time might sometimes be a trip to the library and other times include storytelling at home. Art might be set up or entirely child-led. Our cooking/baking days sometimes take us to the store to pick out vegetables for Stone Soup and other times we bake for Shabbos or for our Friday afternoon Tea Party. Our routine will change when we feel ready for it to do so and I try to let the boys take the lead in our afternoons, especially when mornings are spent away from each other while S is at school.

This month of festive holidays and pending hurricane offer plenty of family time together, and while that is a bit like doing the hokey pokey with "The Real World," it is quite nice to be able to sit back together and enjoy this family time. Wishing our family and friends a Shanah Tova U'Mesukah, a happy new school year and those who may be affected, safety in the storm to come. We will be back with more details on our new play at home routine, some great Autumn themed fun and, as always, plenty of happy playing!

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