It’s Not Just Play

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog post.  As it turns out owning and operating a daycare, being pregnant, and having a baby all take up quite a bit of time and energy-who knew?! I do however enjoy writing, and one of the goals that I originally set for myself when opening my business, was to help inform and educate others of the importance of the educational philosophies that shape our days here.

Owning a business, a daycare, was not the path I sought for myself five years ago. I am an early childhood teacher by training and through seven years of college, hundreds of hours observing and teaching young children in classrooms, I never imagined that life would take me down a path that did not lead directly to a kindergarten or first grade classroom. Yet, here I am feeling more and more like I am right where I am supposed to be. In my home, teaching young children, and using educational philosophies that I wholeheartedly believe in – something I would be unable to do in a traditional classroom setting.

My message is fairly simple (though you might not know it based on the length of this post)—-play. Children NEED play. It is necessary to their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical selves that they have plenty of time throughout the day to be immersed in play. Whether that means completely open-ended play, or an activity that leads to open-minded and open-ended play, it is imperative that they play. It has been long established what play does for the development of a child, yet we continue to move in the opposite direction.  We have serious conversations about the state of our education system, yet we seem to turn a blind eye to what children really need to thrive.  We have a play deficit in this country, and we have been seeing the negative impact of that for quite some time. Academic agendas are being pushed on children from 18 months and up, and it is having a harmful effect on their entire being.  That is why I do what I do.

My daily goal is to create an environment in which children are learning important and basic life skills, academic skills, physical skills, social skills, and emotional coping skills.  There is purpose in everything we do and objectives that we try to meet which will ultimately match up with what they are going to need to learn to be “kindergarten ready”, but I don’t need worksheets to meet those goals. They learn all of this through play, and if done correctly they will hopefully grow to love and enjoy learning.  I engage them in in-depth project based learning, which is rooted in their current interests, I also pursue meeting learning objectives by doing something as simple as laying out materials for them, and seeing where they go with it.  And throughout all of this play we have discussions about colors, and shapes, and what letter sound something begins with. They learn everything they will need to know, but they also learn so much more,  and simultaneously they are happy, involved, and excited about their learning.  I work very hard to help them learn how to love learning.

Our activity yesterday is the perfect example of how academic, physical, social, and emotional objectives were met and exceeded through our play:

I recently noticed that the children in my care have been picking up sticks and other objects and swinging them around in the air, as well as swinging them to bang them on something.  Obviously this is a behavior that I have tried to stop.  However, wanting to swing, throw and hit objects with other objects absolutely has a place in the world, so this led me to thinking about how we could safely meet the need to swing and hit an object while at the same time having a discussion about safety and the proper times and places to do that type of activity.  Those were my initial aspirations with this activity.  Yet, as usually happens, the kids ended up showing me how such a simple activity could become an even more enriching learning experience.

As I filled the balloons one of the girls asked if we could paint them because we already had our paint outside.  I said “sure, what a great addition to our activity!”.  They each painted several balloons and I asked them if they would like me to paint letters onto the rest of the balloons that way I could say “Okay, now we’re going to hit the balloon that has the T on it”, and so on.  They loved that idea and told me which letters they would like painted on the balloons by making the letter shapes with their fingers (which they thought was hilarious, and I thought was fantastic).  I then strung up most of the balloons in the tree and let them each choose a stick.  Before I let them start swinging we sat down and talked about the importance of being aware of your surroundings when doing something like this, and that this was an acceptable time to swing a stick because I was there supervising, but that it is not okay to do it outside of this activity.  I told them they need to look around make sure that before they swing they are completely sure that no one is standing near them.  They did just that.  They checked all around them before swinging and when one child was swinging the other children made sure to keep a very safe distance.  They ended up hitting the balloons with the letters that I called out to them and when we were finished with the balloons in the tree we took a few over to the blacktop to play.  They asked questions like “how high do I have to throw it for it to pop”, and “what will happen if I just roll it?”.  We experimented with all of those scenarios and they were able to get answers to questions that I had not considered would be asked when thinking of this activity.

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So to get to the point—

My initial objectives:

  • Teach the kids about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Teach the kids to more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Work on hand-eye coordination
  • Work on gross motor skills
  • Have Fun

Their actual achievements through open-minded play:

  • Learned about appropriate times to swing and hit an object
  • Learned to be more aware of their surroundings as they do something that could potentially harm another person
  • Caring that the baby may be too close and might have water splashed on her from the balloon
  • Worked on hand-eye coordination
  • Worked on gross muscle skills
  • Had Fun
  • Observed and discussed what happens when you hit a water filled balloon with a stick vs. rolling, dropping, or throwing a water filled balloon
  • Utilized fine motor skills by painting with brushes on an object they have never painted on before
  • Utilized fine motor skills and cognitive recognition of letters of the alphabet using their fingers
  • Recalled letter sounds and shapes by hearing me say the sound of the letter and then hitting the balloon that had that letter painted on it
  • Had questions asked and answered via scientific inquiry as to what would happen the balloon and why if we rolled vs dropped vs threw
  • Continued learning about the importance of being generous, taking turns and sharing with one another (as one child wanted to break all of the balloons but realized that her friends wanted to be able to participate too)

None of those objectives would have been met if my only goal was to have them learn the symbols of the alphabet, or if I felt that rote counting was of the utmost importance. They learned more through this one play based activity than I could have hoped, and that is why I am begging you to let your children play and surround them with people who encourage their excitement and love to explore and engage in the world around them.

Keep an eye out because there is plenty more to come as I make it a point to blog more often about the things I am passionate about!

Process Centered Art & Learning for Young Children

I have written previously about process centered art, and the value that the practice holds, however, I realize that for many people this may be a new model of what children’s art (and subsequent learning) “should” look like.  I wanted to give a bit of further explanation, along with a recent real life example of when focusing on the artistic process gave way to some collaborative learning.  I believe that the key to understanding and embracing this worthwhile method is recognizing that whatever it is that the individual child creates through THEIR process is what that child’s art (and subsequent learning) “should” look like.  This is a very dissimilar concept to what the American education system teaches.  Many educational institutions, such as the NAEYC, advocate for process based art and learning, especially for preschoolers and kindergarteners, yet much of the research continues to be ignored by our education system.  Most schools tend to concentrate mostly on the PRODUCT of children’s art (and as a whole, their learning), which holds very little significance for young children.  Product focused art is exactly what it sounds like, it is “creating” something where the value lies in the end product.  However, the end product is generally one that has been given to you.  It is something that someone else has already created and you are merely replicating their work, and being told by an adult how to do so.  From what I have observed, this type of art, a recreated craft or picture, is often more for the benefit of parents,  to show them that their child has “created” something that is recognizable to them.  Still, this recreation often holds little worth or meaning to the child who made it.  The largest benefit of these types of crafts for young children is that they get to hone their fine motor skills.  This however is something that children can also achieve through process focused art, along with the other innumerable benefits that go along with the practice.

Just to reiterate and refresh, here are just a few of the wonderful things that can be learned and gained while focusing on the process instead of the product:

  • Social and Emotional Development: It is relaxing and theraputic, Children get to express their emotions, they feel a sense of accomplishment and success, they can use symbols to replace real objects which represent ideas and feelings, and they learn to find meaning and satisfaction in the present.
  • Language and Literacy Development: Children discuss their art with adults and peers as they are creating, and they can add print to their art, or dictate what they would like it to say
  • Cognitive Development:  They can make comparisons of texture, color, mediums, etc., they can plan, they can make predictions, they can learn to problem solve and make decisions.
  • Physical Development: They use small motor skills to paint, write, glue, mold, and make collages.

It may seem difficult to know where to begin with process focused art, which is why I wanted to give a real example of a collage that we created last week.  This was created by two of the one year olds and one of the two year olds I have in my care.  It was really wonderful to watch them work on this.  Children are often capable of so much more than they are given credit for, and this collage was a perfect example of that.

The first thing that we began with was a wide variety of materials.  The children were able to freely choose which materials they wanted to use, and how they would like to use them.

I started this activity with both watercolor and tempra paints, different colored paper, paint brushes, sponges, several types of yarn, cotton balls, felt, pieces of differently textured and patterned fabric, contact paper, tubing, and q-tips.

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I let them pick through the materials and they both said that they wanted to paint, so I put out the water colors and tempera paint and let them use their hands, brushes, sponges, cotton balls, whatever they decided on.  They spent well over an hour painting, and using the different types of tools and mediums available to them.

Once the two year old had finished painting I asked her if she would like to use anything else on the table, and she said that she would like to use the scissors.  I let her choose what she would like to cut and she choose paper.  She practiced using the scissors for a bit, but became frustrated, so I showed her that she could also use her hands to rip the paper, which gives a different effect than cutting.  She loved ripping the paper and once the one year old saw her doing this, she wanted to join in, so they both spent some time doing that.  The one year old also started teasing the cotton balls and yarn apart.  Throughout the rest of the process they cut yarn, ripped fabric, and cut fabric.

As they worked we discussed how colors mix to make new colors, we talked about the shapes and colors of the felt that I put out for them, we also sorted the shapes, we talked about the sound ripping paper makes, but how “ripping” yarn makes no sound at all.  We talked about all of these things along with much more.

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I had contact paper taped to the wall, with the sticky side up, and when they were finished with all of the above I put all of the materials that they had painted, cut, teased, and ripped into two baskets and showed them how they could stick the materials to the contact paper.  They LOVED this so much that they worked quietly together for nearly another 40 minutes.  The whole project lasted about 2 1/2 hours and they were entirely engaged and active the entire time. The two year old couldn’t wait to show her mom and seemed to be so thrilled about what they had created together.   It was really a perfect example of what process art can help children learn and achieve.  We were so successful that the next day I repeated parts of the process with the second one year old, we and added to our collage.

I hope that you will try something similar with your little ones and help them to experience some hands on, in the moment, messy, extensive learning!

Winter 2016 111

An Ode to Mud

Okay, no I have not written a song or poem about mud, but what I am going to do is shed some light on the subject of the importance of playing in the mud.  Most people tend to cringe at the very thought of letting their children roll around in mud, squashing it through their fingers and toes, and getting it in their hair, and I get it.  It’s a lot of work, and can be a disgusting mess, but, that’s what hoses are for right?  So, here are just a few of the reasons I firmly believe you should let your children make mud pies, use mud as an artistic medium, roll around in mud, and do anything else mud related that their brilliant imaginations can conjure up.

  1. Mud is Scientist and Doctor Recommended – Something that I did not know about myself until my late twenties, when my husband and I bought our first house together is that I LOVE to garden!  I love everything about it, and at the end of a long day of working in the garden, I feel great.  I feel refreshed, happy, and generally just relieved of stress.  As it turns out, there is some sound scientific reasoning as to why I feel this way after a day in the dirt.  I won’t go into the detailed science of it all, but a 2007 study, originally published in the journal of Neuroscience found that a “friendly” bacteria Mud Play3found in soil activates brain cells to produce serotonin.  They essentially found that playing/working in the dirt has the same effect on one’s brain as an anti-depressant, leaving you happier, and less stressed.  So not only is the mud great for children’s mental health, but for ours as well!  It seems we should all take some time out to play in the mud.  If you would like to read more about the science of soil you can visit http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/66840.php
  2. Mud is an Astoundingly Wonderful Medium for Open-Ended Play and Learning – When children are allowed to explore with mud and a few simple household items, the sky is the limit.  They express their creativity in a myriad of ways, they enhance fine motor skills, and practice literacy and math skills.  They are given the chance to explore texture, see what happens when mud dries, or when dirt becomes wet, they use problem solving skills, and investigate volume.  They utilize their communication skills and practice working togetherRaylan Mud 2 and cooperation as they cook, clean and experience pride in their completed work.  All of the pictures I have here are of us working in the mud kitchen, but that does not mean you must have a mud kitchen to play in the mud.  Children are very resourceful and will utilize the materials you give them in the most creative way possible.  All you have to do is give them the medium, maybe include a some utensils, pots and pans, shakers, etc. and they will create their own world.
  3. Playing in the Mud Helps Children to Connect with Nature – In this age of technology I don’t think I need to say much more than that this is something which children desperately need.  As screens become a bigger and more time consuming part of our day (at home and in school) children desperately need to be able to take time out to connect with nature, and they need a variety of ways to do that.  Our children are suffering from a nature deficit, but there are so many ways to turn this around, and mud play is just one of them.
  4. Mud Play is an Amazing Sensory Experience for Babies and Toddlers – Mud provides a completely new and different tactile experience than any other sensory medium.  Babies and Toddlers should be given the opportunity to squish it in their fingers and toes, sit in it, sift it, and search through it.  You can sit them in a bin, or simply let them crawl around in the mud.  Either way they will love it, and benefit from it!

Yardley Mud

These are just a few of the ways that mud can benefit our children, and us as well.  I hope that you will take it to heart and let your little ones indulge in this rewarding and beneficial activity.  Happy Playing!

4 Fantasticly Fun, Simple, Inexpensive, & Mouth Friendly Sensory Activities for Babies & Toddlers!

Hi All & Happy August to you!  For Love of Learning this week has been a crazy, but fun one, filled with babies, babies, babies, and lots of sensory play! It can sometimes be hard to find age appropriate activities for very little ones because they put everything in their mouths, which can be harmful. Each of these activities is totally baby (mouth) friendly in that way. Babies learn through each of their 5 senses and each of these activities engages each sense. What more could a baby ask for?! All you need for most of these activities is a plastic storage bin (medium or large) and some common household items.

Our first activity this week was one of the most simple, and one of the most engaging.

What You Need: A Plastic Bin, Cornmeal, Toys from Around the House

What We Did: Fill the bin with cornmeal and throw in a couple of baby’s favorite toys. Voila! The cornmeal feels like sand and baby will love to sit in the bin and play.

When You’re Done:  Put the cornmeal in a Ziploc and it becomes a sensory bag!

Our second sensory activity of the week was edible paint!  It was so much fun & the babies loved squishing around in it!

What You Need: Water, Flour, Food Coloring, Vanilla or Kool-Aid, Paint Brushes (large) & Sponges (large), and a Roll of Kraft or White Paper.

Recipe:  You need 1 & 3/4 Cups water to 1 Cup flour.  I did about 4-5 batches at once.  Bring water to low boil, then add flour (can be gluten-free flour if your child has an allergy).  Stir until thick.  I left it somewhat lumpy for texture.  Then separate into jars and food coloring to each jar.   For smell I added a few drops of vanilla to each jar, but would have used Kool-Aid if I had any on hand. Lastly get out a few paint brushes, sponges, and brown paper if you have any. I just laid the paper on the deck. afterwards it washes right off.

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Our third sensory experiment of the week was a little messy & gooey, but great fun!

What You Need:  A Plastic storage bin,  Cornstarch, Water

What We DId:   First, I sat the baby in the storage bin (in a diaper only) and poured the cornstarch on his legs and feet.  I let him play in the dry cornstarch for a while , then began to add little bits of water.  This way he can see what water does to the texture.  I let him play for a while with the gooey cornstarch water mixture.  When he was done I fille the tub completely with water and let him play in that.  It was really 3 sensory experiences in 1!

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Our last sensory activity for the week was definitely my favorite, and was really the most unique experience of them all.

What You Need:  A Storage Bin, 2 Boxes Fettuccine Noodles, Water, Food Coloring, 4 Ziplock Bags, oil

What We Did:  Cook Noodles and separate into 4 large Ziplock bags,  I added a little oil so the noodles didn’t stick.  Fill the bags about halfway up with water.  Add food coloring and let them sit for a while to soak up the water and cool down.  Once cool dump out the water and put the noodles in the sensory bin.  Put baby in the sensory bin (in just a diaper).  Let baby explore!

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I hope You are able to enjoy all of these fantastic activities with your little ones!