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.

 

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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Guest post: Sensory tub play centres

 

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Kristy is back again today to share about loose play centres or sensory boxes as they are sometimes known. These are a great idea for free play times for toddlers. It gives them an attractive area to play in with many open-ended possibilities while providing a boundary for play at the same time. Depending on the material you have out, it may be helpful to spread out a mat or sheet underneath to catch the spills. Once playtime is finished it can simply be gathered up and tipped back in to the tub to save on clean-up time.

Here’s Kristy…

I’m also inspired by Angela’s idea of using the water table as a loose play centre for children to explore. So far it has become an Iceland and a posting table with pipe cleaners, colanders, pop sticks, gems and bottles with all different opening sizes.

It is now a rice table where my children are loving pouring, filling, scooping and shaking. After the rice table I am going to again copy Ang’s idea and create a pom-pom and tong loose play centre. I love watching my children explore, try new things with what is available, and just have the opportunity to learn at their own pace.

Sensory tubs: pompoms

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Interest in our icecream sensory tub has waned so it is time for something new. A couple of bags of assorted pompoms in a variety of sizes and colours, along with tongs, scoops, chopsticks and a variety of containers to fill, tip, pour and create with complete the invitation to play. The children haven’t seen it yet, but I am confident they will be drawn to this open-ended play opportunity. A smaller version would also make a great mat time,  playpen time or room time activity. Quiet, cheap and easy to clean up – love it!

Epsom salt snowscape mini-world

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Our latest mini-world invitation to play has been a hit with the children 6 and under. As is usually the case, the older children love setting it up but don’t actually sit and play with it.

IMG_1077Epsom salts spread onto a mirror gives the impression of snow and the mirror showing through appears to be ice. I purchased a selection of miniatures that are actually terrarium decorations very cheaply on eBay and added brushes and some jewels and rocks. I later added a small sweeping brush to keep the salt off the edges of the mirror.

Epsom salts can also be added to a sensory tub for imaginative play or tipping, pouring and filling activities.

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As interest wanes I’ll add a couple of extra items I’ve kept in reserve for further exploration.

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The folding mirror is a new ($10 secondhand!) addition to our school area. The moment it was on the table my two daughters were found seated side-by-side in front of it drawing self-portraits as they observed themselves in it.

Children just love to watch themselves in mirrors and including one behind pretend play areas adds another dimension. There are also lots of ways to use them for symmetry activities, multiplication and art projects where being able to see behind what they are manipulating  is an added stimulus. The Reggio educational approach includes mirrors in many of their classroom activities and I have a host of ideas pinned to try in the future.

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We later added the bulldozer to the snow mini-world which the little boys loved, plus a Lego slide and matchbox sled made by one of the children for the rabbits to pull. I filled a salt shaker with epsom salts which allowed the children to make it snow and a variety of jewels and rocks to build onto the scene. This has probably been one of our longest lasting mini-worlds and the children are still using it most days after having had access to it for more than 3 weeks.

Icecream sensory tub invitation to play

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We have been doing some op-shopping lately to collect bits and pieces for our loose parts activities and to set up a variety of invitations to play in our newly organised playroom. After hearing my plans to set up an ice-cream shop in the water trolley as our next sensory tub activity the children have been quite keen to get rid of the popsticks and matchsticks and move on to cotton wool ball ice-cream right away.

IMG_1020Cotton wool balls are a cheap base for a sensory tub and lend themselves well to being transferred by tongs, scoops or little fingers and the addition of some marbles, jewels and beads for toppings gave it a fun aspect. A few plastic Sundae cups, swizzle sticks, icecream scoops and sequins allowed for some interesting creations.

IMG_0990Having the sensory tub right next to the pretend play home corner area meant that the children could expand into dramatic play and they soon opened an ice-cream shop. There aren’t many play activities that can keep everyone from the 13 year old to the 2 year old happily occupied together, but this did the trick.

 

The addition of a menu board ($2 from Ikea), a roll of receipt paper from an old cash register, a couple of clip boards and some plastic tokens for money provided the stimulus for lots of copywork, writing and maths as the children wrote out orders and receipts and charged each other for their extremely expensive ice-cream Sundaes.

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An old squeeze honey container was amongst the favourite items, as were the dark brown beads for chocolate drops.

Extra products such as paper doughnuts and choc-chip biscuits were created to add to the repertoire and the menu was rewritten to include several new additions.

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When you charge for every ice block, choc drop, scoop of ice-cream and berry that goes into the Sundaes it makes for some good maths practice.

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This was the original sensory tub that was offered as a provocation for play. The children thought of the many other additions and made it far better by the time they had finished.