Tag Archives: family

Messy Play: not just for fun!

  
I used to detest messes…still do in my mommy brain.  My teacher brain loves it though!  The value in it is limitless and cannot be missed. Clothes and hands can be washed.  The house will get messy too, but with a little planning, you can minimize any lasting effects.

Fun is always important, after all, it makes learning meaningful to children and facilitates deeper connections.  But why is messy play so important?  It is essential to brain development! Every time a child touches wet paint or squishy goo, new connections are forming in the brain.  The stimulation provided by a mud pie or runny oobleck can’t be replicated by a computer game, flash cards, or stories.  The act of skin coming in contact with tactile discovery stimulates new connections and learning.

Children learn through their senses, and all areas of learning are impacted.  In my experience, the more messy play children get to do, the more relaxed they are.  They are also more flexible in routines and quite creative in their thinking. 

Here are some tips that may help you in your messy play adventures:

  • Take it outdoors
  • Get a vinyl tablecloth and tape it to the floor to contain the mess
  • Provide clear expectations for the children’s messy play
  • Use simple materials like snow, water, ice
  • Plan ahead to make sure you have enough materials for the number of children you have
  • Get in there and get messy! It’s more fun than trying to stay tidy and clean

  
Try this Simple Slime Recipe for lots of fun that’s edible and not sticky!

Enjoy!

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What’s the big deal with play?

  So I’m attending my annual conference and I finally have time to write. Sorry it’s been so long, though thankfully I have lots of renewed energy tonight so let’s talk about play.  It’s such a popular word in early education these days, but what are they all talking about?  Isn’t just about kids using toys? 

No it’s not, it’s much much more. It’s the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky.  It’s the method by which children are living their lives, their anchor, their work.  The definition of play in our field is usually described in a paragraph with so many terms and variations.  The common threads are enjoyment, participation and engagement.

Different types of play occur throughout a child’s development.  There’s no schedule or order, no wrong or right, though some patterns exist.  There are natural shifts in the kind of play as children’s environment, community, and minds take shape.

  • Solitary: a child plays alone
  • Parallel: a child plays alongside another child without interaction
  • Cooperative: children interact as they work toward a goal
  • Symbolic: a child uses one object to represent another
  • Sociodramatic: pretend play in which a child takes on a role
  • Games with rules: children follow guidelines dictated by an established game
  • Mature: a child will dive deeply into their play, staying with it for an extended period of time

Please keep in mind that each type of play serves a purpose, and has its own value.  For example, a child who pretends a ball is an apple will later be better equipped to visually represent quantity.  A child taking on a role is learning to self-regulate, practicing self-control.  

I’m interested in hearing what children say when asked, “what is play?” You probably wouldn’t hear words like problem-solving, achievement, creativity, imagination, identity, or persistence.  But if you observe carefully, you’ll see these qualities and more.  And they make for amazing adults; adults which will one day take care of us, our planet, and the children to come.  So next time you think play might just be a simple word with little meaning, think of all that is gained from it.

  
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Adventure Playgrounds

   
  

 What is an adventure playground anyway?  Well, it looks a little like a junkyard, with lots of loose parts. I recently attended a screening of “The Land” by Erin Davis.  This event was put together by a local group, MUD, encouraging discussions in our community. It explores the concept of an adventure playground in Wales.Click here for Erin Davis interview.

The idea is that children are free to take risks with a variety of materials and experiences, with limited guidance.  Play workers are there to remove hazards, but offer no interference or intervention unless there is a request or hazard. (A hazard refers to something that the children are unaware of like broken glass or nails).

After the film, there was a bit of discussion about this concept and how to make it work here. One of the questions that came up was how to circumvent legal issues that could arise.  The panel answered this by saying that the adventure playgrounds in use are offered primarily to children age 6-11.  There are fewer rules and restrictions in this age group.  A fence with a lock is also traditionally included so that play workers are there to prevent hazards from harming the children, and to encourage risk taking in a physically and emotionally safe space.

A large portion of the audience were families, and while there were a lot of great conversations among parents, the early educator perspective was not present. That’s why I’m writing this…I have something to say as always.

We want to encourage risk-taking too. Unfortunately, we have state regulations and insurance liability to worry about.  I’m speaking mostly as a home provider, because if our insurance company doesn’t like our space or practices, they will drop us as clients-not just the childcare policies, but home and auto as well.  So that means no fires, no water deeper than 24″, and no heights greater than 36″.  That’s just to please my insurance company, the state regulations aren’t as tough, but no standing water, all sand covered when not in use…so basically our play space has to be picked up every afternoon.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some basic concepts of the adventure playground: risks are encouraged with minimal redirection and interference, loose parts are offered, and children are able to experience and witness disappointment, failures, achievements, and successes. 

What do they gain from this type of play?

Freedom in their play

Ownership and pride

A deeper sense of self

Rich social environment

To be challenged everyday

Become better problem solvers

Children develop resilience factors

So think about your experiences with playgrounds in the future, and maybe adjust your thinking a little.  Children are capable of so much, let’s see how far they can go! And as always, I welcome your comments!

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For more MUD events, click here

Click here to see a recent article about adventure playgrounds

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When I was in college…

So when I was a college student, I worked three and four jobs to pay my tuition and buy my own books. I had student loans aplenty and even a small scholarship. I chose a private catholic women’s college close to home, though I’m not catholic. But I felt like it was a great place to figure out who I was and still have a safety net.

And I did find my niche in the world, at least started the journey. It was a place to deepen friendships and learn my strengths. But after my second year, I started getting letters in the mail from my college asking to donate to their endowment. I was shocked and ticked off-I was already working my butt off trying to pay for school and they wanted me to give them more?! I didn’t get it, why would anyone give money back to their school when we’ve just spent a fortune to go there?

Five years after I graduated, my college closed it’s doors forever. I attended the last commencement which was a bittersweet occasion for all.

So while their timing stunk, I finally understood why I was receiving letters asking for money…my college was $14 million in the hole and they were grasping at straws.

The message here: if we want something great to continue, we all have to do our part to support it. That doesn’t necessarily mean financially, though that is often what is needed most. Sharing the mission and stories and memories of an organization, school, or club can accomplish so much as well.

And while yes, I’m in the midst of a fundraiser, that I will shamelessly plug right here, this post has been on my mind for awhile. And yes, I would love your support, but this post speaks to anything in your life that you care about whether it is your local church or your child’s soccer team, your local fire department or your favorite non-profit. We all have to work together to make sure they continue at the high level we have come to expect.IMG_8773-0.JPG

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To all my loyal followers:

I’ve just launched my first fundraiser to improve my back yard. Please share this link and consider purchasing a shirt from the site below. Thank you in advance!

And for those of you providing childcare, who may be uncomfortable wearing a t-shirt with another providers name on it, I don’t see our businesses as competing. I feel like we are collaborators and your support is just another way of assisting a colleague. If you feel differently, I respect your decision. Thank you for your interest.

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Let Your Kids Cry

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I’ve worked with young children for many years now, and the words of a mentor are still in my head: “it’s okay for a child to cry, there’s no reason to try to make them stop”.

In this particular situation, she was referring to a three year old child who just moved here from far away. New town, new home, new surroundings were all just too much for this little guy. I was speaking to my co-worker, asking her what else we could do to get him to stop crying.

My mentor, our boss, reminded me that the crying wasn’t just something he’s doing because he’s mad or sad, but that it is a way of expressing and releasing emotion. She recommended ways to support him as he struggled to find his way and navigate all of his emotions.

You see, when a child is crying, you have to ask yourself, “what is this child trying to tell me?”. There are times when that cry is to get attention, you know that fake cry that some kids can turn on, right? My kid can anyway… But really, young children cry to express anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, relief, and the occasional “I have no clue” cry. Letting go of the feelings is cathartic and provides relief to children, it’s how they work their way through to the other side of the conflict in their hearts.

Holding in tears, keeping emotions inward or stifling them can be harmful to self esteem, but also to our bodies. The nervous and cardiovascular systems are impacted greatly by stress, as many adults know very well. We want to instill the value of expressing your emotions early so young children develop healthy coping strategies now. (Seriously, crying can lower your blood pressure according to Dr. William H. Frye II PhD)

The other benefit to letting a child cry when they feel the need is the ability to inspire community. When children see that another child is crying, it creates an opportunity to empathize with their peer. Children will reach out to one another, offer hugs, stories, conversation even. It’s a tool that can enrich the classrooms emotional environment.

Please keep in mind that I’m not saying to ignore a crying child. I’m simply saying that trying to make a child stop crying or not allowing them to cry at all is unhealthy. This is something to keep in mind especially as children move out of infancy. Our expectations change as they have more skills and language, but the child will still feel sad. Crying is a natural way of expressing feelings at any age, and regardless of your gender. Remember, boys can cry too.

So the next time you have a sad child in front of you, give them a snuggle and let them cry it out.

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What I did on my summer vacation:

I visited family, swam in their pool and listened to my son laugh. I went for a lot of walks and ate really good food. I took my son to one of those indoor arcades that I really don’t enjoy, but he loves! I sent my husband and son off to the fair together. I went to the ocean with them next. We ate ice cream almost every night, went walking on the beach and looked at the sand and waves. We spent hours and hours in the water and on the beach. My husband and I got to have uninterrupted conversations. And we just spent time as a family.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, it’s more important than ever to take time as a family. Leave your house, chores, and worries behind. Just hanging out together helped us reconnect and remember all the good parts of our life together.

I also returned to my work feeling renewed and energized. Having that time out of my typical surroundings and spending time in nature gives me a lift. I hope everyone can take time to have a vacation now and then, even if it’s just a couple days to walk away from your worries and start fresh. It’s so worth it.

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“Don’t make a scene.”

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Ever heard yourself say these words to your child in public? Ever heard someone else say them? You know what happens, it’s like a green light for a power struggle. It’s like your child wants to make you even madder so you’ll give in. They push and push until you just can’t take the staring and humiliation anymore. And you give in, and it happens again the next time and the next time. You feel like your child is some sort of manipulative genius, right?

I’ve been there, and I’m sure so have many of you. Guess what? Your child is not trying to manipulate you. There is no secret desire to embarrass you. So what gives? You’re at the grocery store with your three year old child, and you pick up a container of strawberries and place it in your cart. “Not that one! I want that one over there.” You stand firm and ask what the difference could be, they look the same to you. “That is the one we need. Put this one back, I like that one .” It’s just a container of fruit, no big deal.

Now, this is a verbal child, and that makes a huge difference in how this could play out. But the bottom line is the same: do not worry about the other folks in the store judging your response. You are the parent (or guardian or grandparent…), and you need to approach each situation as you see fit. If your child doesn’t agree with your decision, react as you would had no one been observing. Children expect consistency and predictability from the adults in their lives, and that goes for every situation (I know I use these words often but they are just so true).

And some of those power struggles are the child’s way of checking in just to make sure all the rules are still the same. My 9 year old will ask for something, I’ll say no, and he’ll say, “can’t blame me for trying.” If our young children could say this to us, wouldn’t it be so much easier?

And let’s remember that all of us have either been there, or will be there at some point in our child’s life. I remember walking my child into preschool in his pajamas with only one shoe on one time. He was crying and whining, and all I could think was : “I’m so embarrassed. I’m an early educator in this community and my kid is acting like this?” Guess what? His teacher reminded me that the other parents were probably just relieved it wasn’t their child that day. She reminded me to take a breath, and be the parent that I had been just 10 minutes before when I told my child, “if you won’t get dressed, that’s your choice, but you still have to go to school.” I stood by that decision, and was so glad I did, despite the perceived judgement.

It’s sometimes those moments that our children learn the most from us. So next time you’re on the edge of a public power struggle with your child , remember: you are still the parent you were before the scene began, and you’re not alone.

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When Accidents Happen…

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Toilet Learning, aka Potty Training

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This is a hot topic for so many of you, and there’s so much advice out there…I don’t want to overwhelm anyone so I’ll keep it simple: Toilet learning is a natural process in which young children need to take the lead.

I’ve spent the majority of my career (15 years or so), working with two and three year olds. That’s a lot of diaper to pull-up to underwear transitions. I’ve learned that it is a child-driven process, that is only successful when children are truly ready.

Children who are “trained” (I really don’t like this word when talking about toilet use) early, 18 months or so, will regress and have frequent accidents. How do I know this? Seen it. Consistently. Toddlers will learn to hold their urine, and it will appear that they are potty trained. But after a few months, there will be frequent accidents. The walls of the bladder thicken, just like a bicep that’s been doing lots of curls . When it comes to your bladder, thicker is not better. Holding bowel movements is an issue too, leading to constipation and extra pressure on the bladder, among other problems.

So then there are the well-meaning parents who tell care providers that if they put little Johnny on the potty every 30 minutes, he won’t wet his underwear. First of all, does little Johnny want to spend his whole day in the bathroom? No, and logistically, a care provider just can’t do it. And then there’s the pressure he puts himself under, leading to anxiety and insecurity, and the disappointment he’ll feel when he wets his pants. Trust me, he will. No thank you.

The children I’ve seen have a positive and self-driven toilet learning experience have shown basic signs first. When they are ready, you’ll know. It won’t be a battle or power struggle. It’ll be a positive experience for everyone ultimately, leading to feelings of competence and success.

Signs:
The child shows an interest, either by modeling your behavior or talking about it.

Your child tells you when diaper is soiled, or recognizes when he/she is going.

Dry diapers over a 2 hour period or after nap.

A child has skills that will support toilet learning such as walk, talk, and pull up pants(try anyway).

Suggestions:
Encourage the use of a real toilet when interested…it’ll be so much easier when you are at the grocery store with a child who has to pee.

When you begin to see signs, ask if your child would like to use the toilet.

Expect interest to ebb and flow for a bit…it’s scary to learn a new skill. Also be aware that transitions in a child’s life (new baby, different routines, moving to new house) will affect this process greatly, often resulting in regression or holding. Just be patient.

Use the actual words for body parts (this will be important later on)

Avoid anger at accidents, use a matter of fact tone and let it go. Also avoid treats and rewards-no one gives me candy for using the toilet. Your child needs to internalize the feelings associated with accomplishment, which is less likely when a reward is used.

There may be the rare exceptions out there, but trust me, rare is the exception. Good luck! I hope this is helpful, especially since I said I’d keep it simple, and I really didn’t!

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