Mini-world invitation to play – arctic playscape

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Mini-world play continues with our ice and snow landscape. Some wadding over rocks to create snow-capped mountains, plastic dishes for icebergs, glass jewels for water and ice-flow and a selection of plastic penguins, polar bears and a killer whale complete our scene. While not technically correct (for instance polar bears and penguins do not live in the same pole) it looked inviting and was something different.

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As is usually the case for our mini-worlds, the older girls set up the scene repeatedly and the younger boys provided them with many opportunities to do so as they wrecked it almost immediately, with polar bears and killer whales eating penguins and beaching themselves on the mountains. Surprisingly the scene didn’t really interest the children long term, but was revived when they collected some boats and divers from the bath toys and NOW the little boys had some interest. Penguins dived into piles of jewel water and divers crashed their boats all over the place, fighting off killer whales along the way.

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My 5 year old made a snow dam with a white blanket and spent quite some time building towers with the small plastic iceberg bowls and jewels. While the boys didn’t use the scene as I had imagined, they enjoyed it in their own way.

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The 2 year old just wanted to tip and pour the jewels and insisted on taking them off the step and onto the carpet for her play. She also loved the bears and wanted to put them in her handbag and take them away to her bedroom, chucking a big tantrum becoming rather unhappy when told they needed to stay in the scene.

Target and Kmart now have a range of realistic plastic animal models similar to the Schleich brand but much more affordable and that is where I sourced this selection. Later on I will put them out again with some frozen sheets of ice in trays and a variety of ice blocks in the water trolley; perhaps in the summer months I think!

Outdoor activities – water table play

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I was given a bag of these plastic ball-pit balls recently and decided to combine them with a bunch of plastic containers from our local op-shop for 10 cents each. A little water in the water trolley and the kids were all set for some creative outdoor play. Even though it is getting cold here, water play on occasion still goes down well, we just have to follow it up with a nice hot shower for all.

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As you can see, the children immediately began sorting the balls by colour, filling the jugs with “juice” and baking all sorts of wonderful creations. And the sound-track to this happy experience? Lots of bickering and arguing about who had what first and how it all should be arranged and other petty disagreements. We all have those days…..

Light table play – coloured shot glasses

Our latest invitation to play at the light table was a simple selection of colourful plastic shot glasses. For the first few days only the glasses themselves were on offer and it was interesting to see the different ways each age group approached their play.

I had to resist the urge to show the younger children how to build with them, knowing that given enough time they would figure it out for themselves. They initially used the glasses to construct in a way I had not thought of; laying them down and creating 2D style robots and spaceships. My 2 year old was quite content stacking and unstacking the cups and sorting them by colour. There was some counting as they wondered how many layers they would need to use exactly 100 cups in a tower.

 

After a few days of playing and constructing with just the cups themselves, I added 3 plastic rulers and some see-through plastic cars. This opened up a whole new realm of play as the older children in particular worked together to make balancing structures and car garages.

There are many simple “hacks” out there for making your own inexpensive light table; see this post for links to my Pinterest page.

Toy rotation; less is more & what to buy

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When I was an early childhood teacher an experienced sales rep from a large educational supplies company used to visit me periodically. As I made my yearly purchases she gave me some advice which has been proven by my experience over the years to be true. She suggested that rather than purchasing a new construction set or toy, it would be a better investment to build on to a set that I already had.

While it was tempting to have the latest and greatest thing, adding something new to an old favourite sparked renewed interest and expanded the possibilities of play, rather than purchasing another frustratingly small collection that was limited in its uses. This principle has stayed with me as a home educator and as I am tempted to buy a new construction toy in particular, I remember that my children will be better served by a small addition to a much-loved activity that we already own.

Perhaps this will mean searching Pinterest for ideas of items to add to our wooden block collection such as some river stones and other found materials. Or some farm animals to expand our Duplo collection. Perhaps some mini fishing nets and plastic sea creatures to make a new display in our water trolley outdoors. A small, often inexpensive addition that renews interest and revs up the use of an activity that we already own will often prove to be a better long-term investment.

Toy rotation serves the same purpose. Having them all out at once makes for a lot of mess and clutter and often everything seems “old news” to the kids with nothing being used. Take 50% of what you have available and put it in storage. Set out some new combinations of old activities, and put a flexible routine in place that includes times when children are playing where you direct them to play, with what you tell them to play with. Often the unexcited moan will be quickly followed by a great play session with something that has not seen the light of day for quite some time when left on the shelf amidst a sea of other choices.

When it is time for what is available to be changed over and those activities you tucked away come back out, it’s like Christmas all over again as the children rediscover toys they haven’t seen in a while.

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The way toys are presented makes all the difference. We love this mirror as a backdrop to many different play set-ups and the green cloth covers the bricks at the base of a bricked-in fireplace that provides a natural frame for different invitations to play. I thought for a long time that our coloured small building  blocks were a white elephant, but since I have started presenting them differently they have been well-used.

 

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The grand teddy wedding of the year saw Pink Teddy and Honeybear tie the knot as the other stuffed toys watched from the church pews. No extra spent here, just bringing the teddy basket out with the blocks was enough for an afternoon of play.

 

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For some reason the girls prefer to set their dollhouse furniture on the floor instead of inside the dollhouse and consequently they were gathering dust. When I moved them into a cane basket and added them to the block area instead, the whole family (including the boys) ended up creating mansions.

 

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Magnet toys are great for little kids. They are not too hard to connect and don’t make too much mess or noise.

 

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2 mirror tiles from Ikea (4 for $10) taped together to make a free-standing backing and placed on top of another mirror creates another frame or invitation to play backdrop that we use regularly. I place one kind of material out for a while and as interest dies, rotate something new in. These pattern blocks are never chosen from the cupboard but most of the children played with them more than once while they were out at the mirror table.

 

Toddler activities: flower arranging

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My friend Kristy has come up with another simple and captivating activity for her 2-year-old to use for highchair timetable time or blanket time. An upturned colander, a couple of vases and containers and a variety of cheap artificial flowers gave her little one some creative fun while she practised her fine-motor skills as she carefully poked the flowers into the holes.

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I’ll be adding this one to my “to do” list for the future.

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Mini world invitation to play – dinosaur kingdom

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Imaginative play is important in the early years and small world play gives children plenty of opportunity for creativity in an open-ended setting. It also gives us a defined play area that can be included as part of our daily routine. As the rainy weather kicks in it is helpful to have an activity that the children can do when outside play is not an option.

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I let the little kids help me set it up this time, which they enjoyed immensely. We used large rocks from someone who was cleaning out their garden and small pebbles and river-stones I have previously purchased as the base of the scene. A small off-cut of artificial grass and some tattered bits of well-used artificial plants give it some greenery and green, blue and clear glass jewels serve as our swampy river area. The dinosaurs were the cheapest I could find in our local discount variety store and just to make it more fun, I hid them around the house for a dinosaur treasure hunt before we started.

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While the mirror background is certainly not necessary, it does give an added dimension to the set-up. It makes our world look twice as big, allows the children to see their play from a different perspective and they enjoy watching their own reflections! Plus, it just looks good and provides a nice backdrop while defining the space.

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Light table play – our new toy

 

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We have been blessed this week to acquire a new  light table through our local secondhand buy, sell and trade list – for free!! It does have a crack along one edge of the glass (thus the piece of wood we clamped along one side), but other than that, all it needed was to have the legs cut shorter and a new fluorescent light fitted to make it a working entity (thanks Dad 🙂 )

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We added a couple of different materials for the children to experiment with to get them started and it was a hit. These magnetic construction tiles glow beautifully and pretty much anything plastic or acrylic looks attractive with the light behind it. Of course the boys had a car involved within the first 5 minutes and a Duplo man or two soon joined the mix.

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We tried a few different materials just to see what looked good and my 2 year old spent some time sorting out all the pink items; her “best ones” as she called them.

I wasn’t sure we would use it that much, but after searching through Pinterest I now have enough ideas to keep us going for a very long time. I’ll be posting some more of these as we change what’s available.

If you don’t have a light table but would like to make one, there are several simple “light table hacks” as they are usually termed on Pinterest. They range from altering an Ikea children’s table to putting strings of LED Christmas lights inside crates. They would all make a serviceable light box without too much fuss or cost, depending on your level of handyman ability.

We love it so far and it is just the thing to keep little people productively occupied while I am feeding my twin babies. When we get sick of it I’ll send it off for a vacation at one of my homeschooling friend’s houses.