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.

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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.

 

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.