Friday, March 13, 2015

I Trust In Play

It's no secret that I am a believer in learning through hands on play.  I believe in introductions to concepts at appropriate ages because I believe in naturally occurring discovery.  I believe in offering toys and tools in a way that will guide a child to learn what they need through their interests when he or she is developmentally ready.

Pretend restaurant play.  Ready to write down your order!

I believe in the above because I trust play.  I trust that play is giving my children what they need.  I trust that play will present concepts at the age appropriate times in my children's development.  I trust  play because it's an experience that creates multiple opportunities and outlets to learn.  Even in a world ruled by the awesomeness of technology, I still trust play.

Taking the lead in navigating the Zoo, "reading" his map.  Saved for pretend play at home.

Math and reading (or language), are the most notorious subjects found on worksheets and screens.  But they are no exception to the rule of being best understood through play.

A tape measure and snakes of different length are fun to compare.  Tape measures are a good addition when building with blocks too!
Color patterns, and sorting on the raceway.

Children need concrete objects to manipulate in a way they understand them... playing with them.  I trust in play because children trust in play to lead them to this...

Trust that children want to learn.  They are curious about the world around them, including those lines that make up letters and numbers.  But it is a process, and play includes them.  The push and the rush to make numbers and letters more visible before they are ready to be seen is not necessary... they are already there... play will make them appear when a child is ready.
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Friday, March 6, 2015

Eat Your Shapes, They Are Good For You!

My two year old, who is nearly three now, has been taking notice of the shapes all around him quite a bit lately.  I try to naturally incorporate an objective like this in my discussions and play with him, especially if it's a current interest. When I base our play around an interest it only deepens what he is learning.

"I see a blue circle on your paper."  When he shows me his drawings.

"Can you find a triangle block for me."  If we are building together.

"Let's hop on the squares in the sidewalk to the car."  On a walk outside.

The names associated with these symbols are picked up in our day to day play and activities.  We do this with letters that are in the names of members of our family; M for mom, D for dad, and colors as well.

Because he has been more vocal about shapes I've been more purposeful about how I approach our meals or when he cooks with me.  We cut things into squares and triangles.  He feels the difference in his hands between the oval shape of an egg and the circular shape of an orange.  He helps me look for rectangular things to eat at the grocery store.  We bake cookies and add a favorite shape to them.

It doesn't stop there though.  We talk about the utensils and tools we use to eat our food with too; circle cups and plates, square spatulas and pans, and oval spoons.  It's the language incorporated into what we are doing.

Now I can offer shape based play and actvities in other areas of our day as well...
BUT... I love using food as an example because it's one of the very few things we can use all five of our senses with.

Why does this matter?

Because the MORE senses that are involved when learning something, the BETTER our brains remember what we learned!  My son will not only remember shapes more easily, but he will recognize or notice shapes in other settings more easily as well.  Food is the most hands on thing I can use to teach him.

Sense of smell has been known to trigger memories because of the location of memory processing in the brain to where smell is processed.  The brain plays a part in our other senses as well.  So when we are trying to remember information we have learned, it is easier to retain it when the brain can rely on multiple senses.  There are multiple connections being made.

If you'd like to read more about this, the book Brain Rules has a great section on sensory integration.  I love a good book about how our brains work because it explains A LOT about how we learn.

If you don't use food, try to offer activites that engage at least three senses.  Otherwise cook and use food as learning opportunities as often as you can with your kids, simply because it's good for them!

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Less Is More

My boys have about 4 1/2 years between them in age.  It's enough of a gap that finding ways to offer activities that are appropriate for the both of them can be a challenge sometimes, especially when the two year old loves to try and keep up with what the seven year old is doing.  Or the seven year old is just bored with what the two year old loves.

In my experiences I have learned to keep it simple.

I try to keep things simple in general, but sometimes I end up making it complicated.  When I set up a simple invitation it's not a lot.  There aren't oodles of supplies, or an overwhelming pile to choose from.  The less I set out, the more they tend to do with it.

By keeping it simple, open ended, and using a small amount of supplies, the kids can use the materials at their level.  They are simple enough for a two year old to use, and open ended enough for a seven year old to customize.

I have just a few examples to give you an idea of what I have done in the past....
Two blank pieces of paper, two pairs of scissors, a bucket of colored strips of paper, and glue.

What my two year old did with it...

What my seven year old did with it...

A beautiful picture book we had read the day before, accompanied by two pieces of black paper, and various white writing utensils.  My two year old drew circles and lines.  My seven year old drew the owl and a tree from his favorite pages in the book.

Play dough, that I did divide into two portions, two tree blocks, and a container of small random objects.  This was a literacy based activity that pairs well with one of our favorite books.  The link is below if you'd like to know more!

Story Telling that Sticks

What can you build with only two different shaped Legos?  Two Lego mats and two bowls of Legos.

Simplicity is the glory of expression -Walt Whitman

How do you keep it simple so you get more from your kids?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Story Telling That Sticks

"Great stories happen to those who can tell them." -Ira Glas

We live in a world ruled by stories; stories told on the television, at the movies, in picture books, through photographs on the wall, or on the crayon covered paper drawn by little hands.  My favorite stories are the ones told at the dinner table, in the car, or on a walk in the woods.  Stories connect us to one another, entertain us, and help us relate to concepts in life.

One of my favorite story tellers is my two year old son.  With the most expressive face he spins tall tales that are usually peppered with real life events, and a funny character or two.  He seems to have the makings of a future author, but I'm biased of course.

One of our re-occurring favorite stories (in picture book form), and loved by my seven year old as well for its silly plot, is one of Oliver Jeffers' stories, Stuck.

"A tale of trying to solve a problem by throwing things at it." -Oliver Jeffers

I've written about my "crush" for Oliver Jeffers picture books before here.  His story telling has a strong hold on could say we're stuck on them!

We were reading and talking about Stuck one day when my older son was home sick from school.  We had also cooked up a fresh batch of play dough and pulled out our tree blocks.  It struck me later on that afternoon that we had an opportunity for story telling right in front of us.

I smashed some of the play dough down so there was ample surface area for our stories, and laid a tree block next to it so it had the appearance of  a tree.  Then I grabbed a container and filled it with small random objects and toys...the best kind of props for story telling.

 I simply asked my boys to tell me a story with the objects in front of them.  My seven year old eagerly began to work, and the two year old followed his lead.  

It did not take very long for the room to be filled with tales of... "I threw my fish into the tree because I wanted to see if it was a flying fish, then I went back in time in my time machine to get a dinosaur to throw into the tree to knock it down, it was still stuck, so I threw...."  

My younger son told simpler versions, "I throw Lego to knock train down.  I throw car to knock Lego down."

They told, and they re-told, and kept on telling.  It was a great sequencing and recall activity.  They changed the objects and shared their own stories over and was sticking with them.

What favorite story telling methods seem to stick with your kids?  Please share your stories below!

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Myth of Drawing Space

 Someone recently sent me a photo of blank paper framed out on a wall, hanging low enough for a child to draw on, and asked me what my thoughts were on the photo.  I wasn't sure what he was trying to ask, but another person chimed in with the opinion that it only encouraged children to draw on the wall, that it wasn't a "smart" idea at all.

Naturally I replied to this person, expressing that it is a great place to show a child where he or she CAN draw.  Frames are great boundaries for such a setting.  My challenger didn't seem to agree.  There was a written exchange back and forth, and our online conversation got me thinking about the myth of drawing space.  It really doesn't matter where you set up supplies for art to take place, what matters is that you show them where the physical boundaries are.  What matters is that there is something available for them to use.

Most people lay or roll out a piece of paper on a table.  I have never heard someone say, "that will just encourage children to draw on the table!"  I have seen dry erase boards stuck to the front of refrigerators, paper taped to the floor, hand held mirrors with a cup of markers near by..... many blank surfaces in interesting places, all used for creative inspiration.

What is it about walls that scare some people?  Is it the boundaries they portray, or the fact that they can be hard to clean?

What matters is that we acknowledge that children DO make mistakes when they accidentally get crayon where it shouldn't be, and children DO test our boundaries when they try a new surface to see how far they can go.  But I believe there are no artistic boundaries, and if we teach children what the physical boundaries are (when and where it is OK to draw), then WHERE EVER you lay that piece of paper SHOULDN'T matter! 

Share the interesting places you and your child draw!

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