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!

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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!

Processed Focused Art for Children: Why it’s Important & How to Get Started

 

Art

Most of you are probably wondering what exactly I mean by “process focused art”.  Art is Art right?  Well, I’m here to tell you that all “art” is not created equally, at least when it comes to young children.  Just as children need time, space, and freedom in order to have a rich and meaningful play experience, they need the exact same things in order to have a successful creative experience.  Process focused art is about just that – the experience.  Unfortunately, in the product focused lives of young school children we often see the converse of this concept being put into practice.  That is not to say that crafts, or product focused “art” is without benefit.  When children are given a cute bunny to cut and paste together they are learning how to follow directions, put things in order, and are honing their fine motor skills.  All of these are of course important, but the benefits of letting children be free and creative with their art far outweigh the benefits of having them create a product that they can’t really even call their own.

The creative experience is satisfying in such a way that it cannot be replicated or replaced by any other type of experience, and when we only allow children to participate in “creating” product centered art we are robbing them of that unique experience.  Being given the freedom to create can help children to foster emotional health.  These experiences create limitless opportunity for children to “express emotion and, by gaining relief and understanding through such expression, coming to terms with them.” (M.COX)  This type of creative experience can simultaneously foster cognitive growth in that children are given the opportunity to express and try new ideas, problem solve, and use symbols to replace real objects, which represent ideas and feelings.  These are just a few of the reasons process focused art should be the cornerstone of your little ones creative outlet.

One last, and I believe the most advantageous benefit of process focused art is the ability for children to find meaning and satisfaction in the here and now.  At some point in our lives we have all heard and pondered the ever famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination”.  There is a great deal of wisdom and truth in this one simple sentence, and I don’t know about you, but I think it is definitely a notion worth striving for.  This is an attitude that I try to adopt in my own life because I want to be satisfied and happy in the moment, versus feeling unfulfilled because I am waiting for a specific end result, something that will satisfy me in the future.  This is an especially important concept that children need to learn as they grow, even more so in our “everything you want or need is available at the click of a button” world we are living in today.  As children grow out of the stage of life where if they need something, they get it right away, it is so important for them to adopt an attitude of patience and understanding.  However, this is not something that will necessarily come naturally to young children, it is something that must be taught and something that parents can be especially mindful of.  Letting your children engage in process focused art can help children to learn to enjoy an experience without the need for a predetermined outcome.

So, how can you help your children engage in process focused art?

1.  Provide a variety of self-expressive materials for

  • Painting – Paint (oil, water-color, etc.) Sponges, Brushes, Twigs, Logs, Pinecones, Seashells, Paper, Q-Tips, Cotton Balls, the options are pretty endless!
  •  Collage Making – Again, Endless Possibilities!  Tissue Paper, Glue, Paper, Yarn, Magazines, Smooth Glass, Buttons, Small Twigs, Grass, Flowers, Leaves, Etc.
  • Dancing – scarves, Musical Instruments, Wands
  • Dough Play/Clay Play – Anything that can be pressed into or help to roll the dough! Pasta, Beans, Wooden Letters, Cookie Cutters, Rocks

These are just a few ideas, but let them explore and utilize any materials they wish!

2.  Interfere as Little as Possible

  • Let children explore the materials as their impulses and feeling require.  Avoid the instinct to tell them how to do something, or that they are doing something wrong.   This greatly limits creativity and suppresses the child’s instincts and originality.

3.  Never Provide a Model for Children to Copy and Understand that the Process, not the Product is What is Important to Children

4.  Allow Plenty of Time

  • Children need time to work their way into an experience and to develop their feelings and ideas as they go along.  Ideally you should give them as much time as they need or want.

5.  Provide Enough of Whatever They are Using

6.  Let Children Come and Go From Their Art at Will

7.  Play Music in the Background

8.  Take it Outside!

9.  Say YES to Your Child’s Ideas

Keep these basic principles in mind, and have fun watching your child engage in meaningful creativity!

An Eggtraordinary Activity for Your Littles

Please excuse the cheesy title, but I just couldn’t help myself!  I have been meaning to post this gem of an activity for a while, and figured todayimage would be the perfect day (even though it’s a little chilly) because the kids are out of school today and tomorrow.  If you are looking for something fun to do with them, and have an hour or so free, look no further!  I would highly suggest taking your little ones outside and throwing a few eggs.  I did this activity in August with the twins, who are 5, but this activity can be done imagewith any child who can throw.  I actually spent some time-saving egg shells in preparation for this activity, but you can just as easily go pick up a carton of eggs right now and use them for this activity, (maybe just consider making scrambled eggs for lunch, or breakfast tomorrow, so you’re not wasting the eggs).  After you have gotten your eggs, you crack each one gently on the top so that you have a small hole at the top of the egg-shell, then dump the egg into a bowl.  Put each shell back in the carton and fill each one with a different colored paint.  Tape some Kraft paper, or white paper to something outside (I used my fence), and let them t  When they are done throwing let them finger paint.  It’s such an easy activity and was such a huge hit, I know I enjoyed throwing those paint filled eggs along with them!  I’m posting some of the pics of our little egg adventure below.  Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Reasons Why Cooking with Your Kids is Beneficial & a Simple Recipie to Get You Started

I’m sure that most would not consider cooking to be an exceptionally “educational” activity for their little ones.  However, you may be surprised to learn that cooking and baking with your children offers plenty of opportunity for cognitive, emotional, and physical growth.  There are many educators out there who will tell you that preschool is the ideal time to begin cooking with kids, however I believe that you can start giving them small tasks in the kitchen at whatever age you believe them to be ready.  Most children are developmentally capable of helping around 14-18 months.  Here are 6 benefits to cooking with young children, along with a simple play dough recipe for children of nearly any age to help make.

1.  Cooking Helps to Build Fine Motor Skills:  Stirring, pouring, kneading, and shaking are all fine motor skill builders, and can help with hand-eye coordination as well.  The are simple yet, important tasks that can be performed by little ones as young as 14-18 months and up.

2.  Cooking Can Help to Calm and Relieve Stress:  If your children are anything like all other children then dinner time can be one of the most difficult times of the day (there’s a reason parents call it the witching hour/s).  If you are trying to get dinner on the table and your children are frustratingly restless, ask them to help you.  Give them a simple task to help you with dinner.  This will help to keep them active, entertained, and calm.  Tasks such as kneading and stirring are perfect for this.  In my experience children become very calm while performing these tasks, and enjoy doing them for extended periods of time.

3.  Cooking is an Activity That Families Can do Together:  This one is fairly self-explanatory, but if both you and your spouse work, or you are a single parent, cooking dinner together is a great way to spend time together.  It’s something that you have to do anyway, so why not make it a family activity?

4.  Cooking Helps to Build Math and Reading Skills:  As your children grow it is very important for them to recognize just how important reading is.  With older children (starting around age two) you can explain to them that when you cook you follow a recipe.  You have to be able to read the recipe and follow the directions in order to make the correct thing.  Show them the recipe that you are using, and then as you cook show them where each step is written.  When they are a little older and able to read you can give them one note card at a time each with a simple instruction on it.  Cooking also helps to build math skills.  Children learn what a cup is versus a tablespoon, etc.  As they get older you can explain to them that 1/4 cup + 3/4 = 1 cup.  You can have them pour each into 1 cup to visually show the math.

5.  Cooking Helps to Build Self Esteem:  This is true mostly of older children.  When you help to cook/create something it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment.  You have learned several new skills, and have successfully created something delicious that you and your loved ones can then enjoy together.  That’s quite an achievement for a young child!

Cooking is a Lifelong Skill:  Cooking is a skill that you will carry with you through life, in childhood, through college, and into adulthood (and will hopefully be something you then teach your own children.)  People who cook versus eat out are generally healthier and eat foods that are more nutritious for them.

Here is a very simple recipe for play dough that can get you and your children started with some basic skill building.  This is something that we made this morning, and it was a huge success!

  • 1 Cup flour
  • 3/4 Cup water
  • 1/4 Cup salt
  • 1/4 Cup oil
  • Spices are optional, but I used Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, and Cloves.  You can also add food coloring if you prefer.

First, bring the water to a boil.  While the water is heating up mix the flour and salt in a bowl.  E is 18 months old so I put the flour in a cup and let her pour it into the bowl.  We did the same with the salt.  When the water is finished boiling I poured it into the bowl, and let her stir it once it cooled down.  I then let her pour the oil in and mix it some more.  I separated into 4 balls, and let her use spice shakers to add to each ball of play dough.  She LOVED doing all of these things.  I let her take her time and from start to finish it all took about an hour and a half.  Happy Cooking!

 

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Squishy, Fun, Baby Friendly, Edible, Gluten Free Playdough!

Today, a good portion of our morning consisted of making, then playing with this awesome no-cook play dough.  The kids enjoyed measuring, pouring, stirring, squishing, smelling and tasting!  Its messy, but very much worth the sensory experience!

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To make put the following ingreadiants into one large bowl:

1 cup rice cereal

1 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup apple sauce

3 tbs. veg/canola/olive oil

1 packet of any flavor kool aid

stir and squish with hands and enjoy!

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We made several batches and I let them take their time and induldge in the great sensory experience.  When we finished making the paydough I set out several objects for them to play with along with the play dough. They loved the entire experience!

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