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.

Moveable art with loose parts – an invitation to play.

Moveable art with loose parts as an invitation to play has continued to be a hit in our house this week. The theory of loose parts in layman’s terms is that the more bits and pieces you have to muck about with, the more you can interact and be creative with the materials. I like it because it promotes creative and artistic skills while being easy to work into our daily lives. It’s quiet, (good for afternoon nap times) doesn’t require a lot of time to set up or clean away and children of all ages can participate once they are past the stage of popping everything into their mouths. The pieces can be used over and over again endlessly and the end product is a beautiful art work.

There are so many kinds of materials you can use to stimulate artistic play. Last week I set out pattern blocks, this week I pulled out all the glass and acrylic shapes I have collected over time. I find these in discount variety stores in the vase or candle section for a couple of dollars a bag and they are such an attractive material that the children just love to handle them. We use them for maths with my early learners who are working on basic counting skills with manipulatives and in sensory boxes with all kinds of accessories.

I present loose parts play to my toddler in a different way than the  older children. While she does at times have access to the table and loves the materials, she tends to frustrate the older children by messing up the designs they are working to create, or dumps the bowls on the floor and carts them around the house rather than creating art! So I simply pop her up for highchair time with a smaller mirror and a couple of containers of jewels to choose from. She loves copying the big kids and does sit there for a little while carefully arranging them on the mirror as she has seen the others do, before tipping out the entire bowl and just enjoying handling them for their own sake. The restraint of the highchair helps her to focus and develop self-control and concentration skills and gives her the opportunity to use the material in a way she would not have done had I let her wander about the house with them.

How do you encourage creativity in your children?

 

Invitations to play

Do you have unused resources taking up space in your cupboards? Perhaps there is an amazing educational set that your children just never seem to choose? Maybe it is time to try an “invitation to play.”

These pattern blocks have been available to my children for table time and room time for years and I can’t remember the last time a child voluntary took them out of the cupboard to play with. As our pretend play area was also laying dormant, I decided to pack the home corner equipment away for a while (toy rotation is a wonderful thing) and set out something new.

I originally started with 1 large mirror and 2 lids full of jumbled blocks, with the idea of giving my almost 2 year old something she could use while in the games room without getting into other areas that she does not have the freedom to access. The moment I unveiled the new attraction though, it immediately became obvious that I was going to have many children interested, not just one toddler! After the addition of another smaller mirror and a couple of wooden trays, most who were interested could join in, however I even had to pull out an old picture frame as another base so that everyone could be in on the action.

My 13 year old hasn’t touched a pattern block for years and yet there he was, busily building the Millennium Falcon, while his almost 11 year old sister methodically sorted the blocks into separate shapes and colours before commencing her building plan. The nearly 2 year old chose to pick out every single yellow hexagon during her first attempt (shape and colour recognition anyone?) and the little boys made random sculptures or bunches of Tie-fighters!

So what’s the point?

  • If toys are not readily available, then children won’t use them. Sets that are upended in toy boxes or buried in the back of a jumbled cupboard will rarely see the light of day. Store toys in sets in containers that make it quick and easy to set out and pack them away.
  • Toy rotation keeps things fresh. When a toy that has been out of sight for a while comes back out, it is like a new experience all over again.
  • Use toys that are not favourites in new and different ways to spark interest. These pattern blocks come with puzzle cards that I usually set them out with. This time the focus was free creating.
  • Free play time and age-appropriate choice as part of a flexible routine needs to be handled wisely. It is also important to teach children to play with what you tell them to play with, when you tell them to play with it and where you tell them to play it. A parent-directed routine will help you to raise obedience, self-controlled children who are not addicted to choice.