Monday, October 21, 2013

Pre-Writing: Story Building

My big boy, Jake is really into telling stories and making up tales. He does NOT like to attempt to write, though. He has trouble with his fine motor skills and if he cannot do something he does not want to try!
 Roaring Springs has these super Color Me Notebooks with pictured covers. You can color the pictures and the inside of the notebook is just lined paper. I saw these and got inspired. I knew that Jacob would love these and want to color right away. My idea was to use the cover as inspiration for writing a story. Jake saw this and jumped right in! He colored the front and named the story The Missing Shark and Turtle.
I convinced Jacob to write his name (getting there) and we started the story. I wrote what Jacob told me to write- exactly. I repeated it as I wrote then read it back to him after we finished that page. This process caused some editing on his part. (You can see those below.) After I finished writing a page he illustrated it.
 I love that he was able to self edit his work. He is 4 years old now and really starting to notice if something does not sound correct but at the same time he is doing some  "baby talk" probably because of his two year old brother. I was able to discuss these edits with him after he pointed them out.
 I was very impressed with his ability to tell a story. He included a beginning, middle and end. Although the story was not highly involved it told a story and included key parts. This shows me that words and language is a strength for Jacob. I get excited to see where this takes him!
We finished the story but obviously there are more pages in the notebook. Jacob wanted to keep story telling but he could see that the story naturally ended. From here he stopped and thought a minute. He then decided that he could keep telling stories of Shark and Turtle. I love that he thought of this and that he wanted to keep story telling with the same characters!
 Check out these Color Me Notebooks from Roaring Springs. Not only did they inspire a pre-writing project for me to excite Jacob but they have sparked imagination within him. I am so excited to try the other notebooks that came with this one!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Teach Play- #4 What Should We Play?

What Should We Play?

Here are some examples to help you know what and how to play with your child. 

Note: These are example of my son and I playing together. In some cases it involves my second son as well, but teaching play is not done with a room full of childhood friends. That is valuable on its own, but it is something different and works best with older toddlers/children. Children learn a lot from each other.  You may find after spending time teaching your first or oldest child how to play they do the hard work for you for your subsequent children. My second son learned a lot from his big brother. I did have to sit down and help him with a few types of playing, like the farm, building with blocks and playing ball. 

Dramatic Play Examples:

Physical Play Examples:

Constructive Play Examples:

Children learn how and what to play from life experiences. You do not have to buy anything special to play. Just use your imagination and what you have around the house. It is really important to expose toddlers to as many experience as you can. Once they start school time gets away from you and sports start, music lessons and our schedules get too busy. Take the time with your toddlers to go to Pick your Own Farms, Fire Station Tours, The Zoo, etc. 

Field Trips:

Just try to devote a little time each day to your child- alone. No phones, computers, books or any other distraction. And work hard to make it fun for you as much as it is for them! They can tell if you are miserable or bored. Devoting this time will help your child. If you have subsequent children, the older children will help the younger ones learn to play. Your time is an investment with many dividends!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Teach Play- #3 How Do I Teach Play?

How Do I Teach Play?

I believe that play is something children learn. They learn play by modeling during Onlooker Play. The modeling can be by siblings, parents or other children. Sometimes that modeling comes from life experiences for example; cooking in the kitchen, going to a Pick Your Own Produce farm, or taking a ride on a bus. Play can also be learned from direct modeling. This is when someone sits down and plays with them, showing the child exactly what to do without them noticing that is what you are doing.  

Think of a playing a board game with a small child- you cannot give them the game and expect them to play correctly. Reading the directions is usually not enough either. You must play the game with the child reminding them of the directions while playing. 

The same must be done with toys. Most parents think a toddler can pick up a toy and know how to play. That is just not the case. Take the Fisher Price Little People Barn. I have seen people give that to toddlers and walk away expecting the toddler to play with the pieces and not understanding why their child cannot do this. Young toddlers do not necessarily have the skills to do this. They might pick up the pieces, look at them, push the buttons, etc. Then what? They do not know what to do next so they move on to the next toy and do the same thing. Parents think the kids need a lot of toys to occupy them. If they have been to a farm and seen it in action they might have an idea of what to do next. Do they know what farmers do on a farm? Do they even know what a barn is used for? Have they had stories read to them about farms? Do they know the animals on a farm and the name of those animals? Taking the time to sit and model playing for a few minutes can provide years of fun with that toy and with play. 

Teaching Play through Onlooker Play- A Barn: Pull out the barn and set up the animals. Talk out-loud as you play to model what you are thinking for your child. "I am the farmer and I have to feed the animals when I wake up. Next, I am going to milk the cows- (squirt sound with your mouth like the sound of the milk hitting the pail). Now I have to clean out the barn. I am tired I need lunch. After lunch I will sheer the sheep." Etc... (Of course you do this with detail and not in a boring way. Use enthusiasm in your voice.) Do not be surprised if your child grabs the cow out of your hand as you say you are going to milk the cow. Milking the cow sounds fun, your toddler wants to do it. Just grab another animal and do something else with that animal. Even if it is Onlooker Play your child might jump in and try something out. Great! We are not going to worry about teaching sharing, grabbing, taking turns at this time. Pick your poison and stick to one goal at a time. You want them to be excited about play, let them join in or even better yet, take over!

Parents have told me either they cannot remember how to play or they just do not enjoy it so how can they teach their children? 

Part of the problem for not enjoying play is that our minds are elsewhere. We have so much to think about and worry about that we are constantly distracted. I get it, I feel the same way! But, that does not have to be the case, we do not have to let our worries consume us. Playing with a toddler is not an all day event. Taking the time to model play is a relatively short activity. Their attention span and desire to have onlooker play is short. If you can commit to unplug for 10 minutes a day your children can learn to play. Before the age of 4 or 5 they really do not want to play with another person but rather next to a person. Spending 10 minutes modeling play will satisfy their desire to have you near and teach them an activity. After that 10/15 minutes they generally do not want you to play with them or their toys, but rather just be sitting close by then you can check your messages, pick up the phone or clean up.

A hard part for parents is remembering how to play for themselves. We are adults after all and it has been a while since we have played as a child, let alone a toddler. Here are a few ideas of where to start.

1. A good place to start is with the toys they have. Look around, what do you see? Dinosaurs? Kitchen? Farm? Blocks? Trucks? Dolls? Grab the blocks and start making a tower. Then try to expand from that tower into a castle. Pull an action figure out and make that the king. Nothing has to be highly involved, just start very basic. The King goes into the kitchen to eat supper. Anything goes- no rules.

Go back to the first toy you modeled for a couple days and try to reenact what you did the first time and maybe add to it. This helps cement how to play with that toy. Do not worry about squelching their imagination, toddlers are self-centered. If they want to play with the toy another way, they will! They might even tell you that you are doing it wrong if they have an idea how something should be done. 

2. Another idea is to think of what they are watching you do. Clean? Cook? Work? Mow the lawn?  These are other examples of places to start to teach play. Do they see you working on the computer? Set up an old computer or a cereal box turned over to look like a computer screen. Do they see you cleaning? Give them a swifter mop with the handle unscrewed half way up to make it their size. Let them help around the house, that IS teaching play (and cleaning).

3. A great place to get ideas is from books. Use children's books as your inspiration for what to do with those toys. Read the book out loud and then suggest you pull out some toys to do what you just read. An example of this is here, we read a construction book called, Demolition, and then acted out what we saw in the pictures and read in the words, as best as we could, with our toys. 

Pick a couple toys to keep out. Put other toys away so the children are not so distracted by hundreds of little pieces and toys all over the room/house. Once you commit to teaching your child to play with that one toy for ten minutes or so, you will notice that they go back to that toy day after day. You will not need all of their toys out to keep them occupied.

Teaching your child to play is not something that can happen in one day. It does not take a lot of time but does need to be done consistently. You will notice how quickly they start playing on their own with the toys you have modeled but do not expect to spend 10 minutes playing with them and then walking away and an 18 month old to continue play for an hour. This is something that builds. They will work towards extended play and getting lost in play.

Next post: #4 What Should We Play? -Examples of Play

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How to Teach Play- #2 What Should We Expect from Our Children?

What Should We Expect from Our Children?

"Where are your kids? Playing? They are toddlers! I swear they could play for hours on their own. How can I get my kids to do that?"

This is something I have heard numerous times. Parents love their children but want them to be able to go play by themselves sometimes. It is a very important skill for numerous reasons but in the minds' of most parents the most important reason is a moment of piece and quiet! 

Children learn through play and then use play to occupy themselves. They should be able to play alone and with others. The goal for play is to get "Lost in Play." To be Lost in Play is when a child is so deeply playing he/she may not be able to hear you call their name- the world around them stops. This is when the real learning is happening and this is when true play is happening. When our children are lost in play they do not want to be disturbed. Calling them to dinner is the end of the world. It is usually not something that happens within minutes of toys being pulled out, it takes time. THIS IS WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT FROM OUR CHILDREN!- Being Lost in Play.

Is this happening in homes across our country? Do children have time or the ability to get lost in play or are they "borrrred"? As a teacher, I cannot tell you how many third graders I knew that could not play. Whether it was indoor or outdoor recess, kids did not know what to do. I feel children need to be given the time and space to play. With a little help these third graders learned to play. 

Our children can learn to play before third grade and can love to play for years and years. You can wipe that "I am bored" statement right out of their vocabulary. So what can we expect?

With a little guidance your toddler, yes as young as toddlers, can learn to play for an extended amount of time and get lost in play.  You could walk out of the room and your child could not even notice. You can do the dishes, make dinner, have a conversation on the phone without interruptions. 

Depending on the maturity and development of your child you can expect to see this level of play as early as 18 months. Before this age a lot of toddlers need to "check-in." They need to be able to see their caregiver and show-off what they are doing. They need you for vocabulary and modeling. Their play, in the early days, is more about exploring. 

After around 18 months (depending on the child), they have the ability to delve into play. You can start to teach play before this age at a minimal level but after 18 months is the prime time to teach and model play at a more extended level. 

Next in the Series: How Do I Teach Play? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Teach Play- #1 What is Play?

What is play?
Play is THE most important thing children do! Children learn through play. If you want your children to learn, teach them through play. A toddler's job is playing, their days should be consumed by play. 

-OK, I get it! But what does play look like for a toddler?

There are many stages of play from infants cooing and kicking to children having extensive Lego cities. We categorize play to help with the understanding of the larger concept. The six categories were developed by Sociologist Mildred Parten. 

Stages of Play:
1. Unoccupied Play- This is the play of infants; kicking, cooing, swatting 
2. Solo Play- When toddlers are playing by themselves
3. Onlooker Play- When a toddler watches others play and absorbs or learns from their play
4. Parallel Play- Playing in the same room with children side by side but not engaged in the same activity 
5. Associative Play- Playing with the same toys as other children but not interacting with eachother
6. Cooperative Play- Playing together

As children grow they phase through these Stages of Play. You can expect your child to phase through these forms from infancy to around the age of six. (Or sooner depending on their maturity)

These are very simple definitions just to give you an idea of the different stages of play. It is not important that you know the details but just that you understand, you cannot expect a two year old to jump into a game of Hide and Seek on the playground with other children. You cannot teach the Stages of Play, children cycle through them on their own depending on their development. It is not a testament to the parent, or the child for that matter, to move through the types, it is just developmental readiness. 

Besides the Stages of Play there are Types of Play that help us understand play. These categories are broken up into 4 groups that give you a clearer picture of play.

Types of Play:
1. Dramatic/Imaginative Play- Using your body to act out play- role playing/dress-up 
2. Competitive Play- Playing with another child(ren) in the form of a game where a child can win and lose
3. Physical Play- This is when motor skills are being used, this can but does not have to involve others
4. Constructive Play- Playing that involves building, maybe using blocks or using toys to make cities

Children tend to show interest in one or two Types of Play more than the others. This is normal and although they can use the other forms they prefer their favorite. These Types of Play are usually identified in children once they have moved into the Cooperative Play Stage.

This is the first post in a Series of posts on Play. Check back for the next post: #2 What Should we Expect from our Children? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dramatic Play- Camping

The boys and I did a little at-home camping this week. Here is a picture of our set-up.

This wonderful day(s) of play all started after we received a package in the mail. Smart-Fab, a company that makes a cool fabric material that is strong and durable yet easy to cut, glue and paint. Smart-Fab sent us a sample of their product to allow us to get creative and have a little fun! 

I asked Jacob (4 years old) what we should make using the Smart-Fab product. Without a second thought Jacob said he wanted to make a tent. I thought it was an unusual idea to come from him because we have yet to go camping as a family and really have never talked about a tent or camping. But the big guy knew what he wanted to do and he wanted to do it that moment! We had to get creative with what we had around the house to make the tent. I kept it basic by stringing a rope from a tree to the fence and then laid the Smart-Fab over the rope. We also stuck the Smart-Fab to the ground using stakes. The stakes went through the Smart-Fab easily. I traced and cut out stars from another color of the Smart-Fab and glued them on as it hung on the rope and as my boys outfitted the tent.

They outfitted the tent with some pretty cool items. A blanket to sit on, food, dishes and pans from our toy kitchen, a chair to sit on, a toy dog, a toy cell phone, music instruments and a piece of wood for a fire. I thought those were amazing things to add to a tent for the camping experience, especially coming from two boys who have never camped. I loved Jacob's idea to grab a piece of wood for a fire so I went in to find some red, orange and yellow tissue paper to represent the fire. We did not need the tissue paper, just thought it would be fun and add to the experience. 

The tent was perfect for our play (we would not be sleeping in it). It blocked the sun yet allowed air to circulate through and when the wind blew we could feel the cool breeze even within the tent. It provided enough shade that baby brother could even enjoy it.

The boys delved right into play. Joey (2 years old) sat and played some music for while big brother made some lunch for us. He made us eggs and fish that he caught first (from our play food). He cooked them over the fire and served us the food on plates. I sat in the tent (as instructed) while the boys played as they wished. They were able to occupy themselves in the camping play for the entire day. I suggested a few activities but they spent the day coming up with most of their own ideas. The ideas were all make-believe or role playing and included; making food, walking the dog, talking on the phone to invite friends to join us, fishing, sleeping, hunting, a nature walk to look for animals in the mountains and roasting marshmallows. 

I was really surprised that Jacob chose to "camp." Like I said, we have no experience with camping and do not own a tent. My best guess is that we have read books about camping and that sparked an interest in his mind. Books, life experiences and even TV can be a good source of ideas for play. Regardless, it was a fun filled day playing campout in the front yard! 
 Calling Friends
 Plating up the food
This is within the tent, you can see how the Smart-Fab shades the boys within the tent. There is a soft blue hue which helped keep it nice and cool within the tent. I was very happy with Smart-Fab as our tent fabric. The best part: we left our tent up over night for more play in the morning. It happened to rain that night. Not only was the tent in tack but the stars that were glued on, stayed. The tent showed no signs of getting wet and the ground under the tent was dry. We ended up leaving the tent up for 3 days with not one problem! When I took it down I folded it up and plan to keep it for future play for inside or outside use.

If you are interested in creating a camping play experience, do not feel that you have to own items that are typically found at a campsite. Make do with what you have around the house. Having the children use their imagination and pretend that a toy has a different use, is great practice for imaginary play. 

Smart-Fab can be purchased at various retail stores across the country. Check out their website to learn more and get some great ideas for use. 

Disclosure: All thoughts are my own and I was not paid for my opinions. I did receive some samples of the product to try out.

Friday, October 11, 2013

New Series: How to Teach Your Child to Play

I hear time and again that parents wish their children could play by themselves for an extended amount of time. Our new series will help you Teach your Child to Play.

In this Series we will address:
   1. What is play?
   2. What Should we Expect from our Children?
   3. How do I teach play?
   4. What should we play?

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