What our kids learn when we butt out…

I saw this the other day and loved it because it is so true.

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My favorite times watching my children play are totally organic. Not lead by me. Not in a group classroom. Not during an activity I’ve signed them up for. Not while doing anything I’ve paid for. Not when they know I have a camera hiding around the corner, hoping they won’t really notice enough to stop their magic.

Why? Because that sort of play is the best brain building kind! It’s the kind that is naturally multisensory, usually socially engaging. and belly laughing, child shrieking fun.  It is THE BEST way to really KNOW my children, because they are worried that an adult watching has expectations. They are free to express themselves at the developmental stage where they are and get all those feelings out, let all those creative ideas flow, and pretend they are whoever they wish to be. Yep, magic.

My favorite thing about social media is seeing the children of my friends and family.  I’ll publicly admit that while my parent friends are fuming and post photos of some huge mess, my mind thinks in the way of the child that made the mess. Maybe this is against the parent pact? Like this doozie from my dear friend Jen (Warrior Mom of 4), who shared this of her child’s “artwork” a few months ago.

 

Jen had just cleaned the couch. She was likely thinking, “Someone is gonna die.” I thought as her son and in my mind said, “I’m learning that this cool address stamper works on things besides paper. And it leaves a mark wherever my hand goes. And that doing this really had my mom engage with me.” Of course my mind also thought “Poor Jen,” and “Been there sister,” and “Rubbing alcohol takes ink out of fabric and toothpaste takes it off tables.” (Parent pack renewed).

As parents, we hear these messages.

“Sign them up, and they’ll learn.”

“Take the class, and they’ll learn.”

“Do the worksheet, and they’ll learn.”

Those messages are so loud at times that the message our gut tells us (that “PLAY BUILDS BRAINS! AND PLAY IS THE BEST TEACHER OF YOUNG KIDS”) is often brought to a whisper. Suddenly, it JUST seems like play instead of the many learning opportunities that go on during play. Instead of the magic.

I believe that if WE as parents, teachers, therapists, child care providers, family members want to turn the tide on the message sent to young children and those that love and care for them regarding play, then we need to start SEEING PLAY THROUGH THEIR EYES. Doing so, will not only make us better at our work, but will change the conversation. It s our job to defend play as a right of children.

I’m not suggesting you let your children color all your walls and furniture. I am suggesting, we consciously set the scene, make supplies available, create safe environments that support creative expression and concrete learning, and then we BUTT OUT (sometimes). More on why – HERE.

Yes, a child needs adults to love to them, read to them, nurture them, comfort them, and play with them. They also need time to play alone and with their peers. I’m also suggesting that when we get the gift of being able to peek in on the magic, we remind ourselves to take a deep breath, look past the mess (briefly), and think, “what is he/she learning?” Yes worksheets or classes led by another adult that we sign up for or pay for are cleaner, safer, and easier (and there are benefits to them as well), but child led, child driven play is the BEST way a young child learns.

As an exercise in this, I started searching for some of my favorite pictures of this sort of magical play and decided to caption them accordingly as a self exercise. Here they are…

 

Will you help us change the conversation for kids?

We’d love to see your photos!  Post them to our Facebook or send through Twitter with the caption “I’m learning…” and the hashtag #playbuildsbrains

For more on why we believe in play and ways to encourage early learning through play using 1-2-3 Just Play With Me take a look around this website!

 

Toddlers Need Tweezers

Hi friends. Happy 2014.

Wishing you health & happiness in the new year. We know that our Milestones & Miracles friends KNOW that regular PLAY (for kids and adults) contributes to keeping us all happy and healthy.

So if you are planning on spending time in creative play this year – we wanted to take a moment to share a fun way to shake up regular play and to make it purposeful play with very little work/effort!

Remember toys that looked like this?

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They made us exercise our hands without even knowing it. They strengthen tiny muscles in the hand that help with handwriting, pinching, poking, pointing, sewing (so I hear?), crafting, cooking, or whatever we use our hands for in our work (hammering, typing, drawing etc.).

Toys that are more prominent in our stores today – like the one below, don’t challenge tiny hands in big ways.

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But have no fear. Just because it’s not easy to find in a store – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it out. Think of all the ways your child plays. How many of those activities could you add a set of plastic tweezers to? Tweezers are fun for kids (“Really Mom I can use this TOOL?”) and can add that needed fine motor attention that many toys lack.

This set can be found HERE on Amazon.

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A quick glance at our MOTOR PLAY BOARD on Pinterest, shares ideas we found through a quick search, like these.

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tweezer nut sort

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I personally love the bug option! But think beyond these examples…

Why not let your child eat snack with their tweezers?

Picking weeds with tweezers is helpful and fun!

So is sorting socks into matches (and you’ve thrown in a cognitive skill too!)

For larger items – use salad tongs – why not clean up the playroom this way?

Like these suggestions? We LOVE adding purpose to play! That’s why we filled this sweet box with detailed developmental milestones paired with purposeful play ideas that are perfectly matched for your child’s interest at each step along the way! We’d love to send you 3 years of PLAY today – visit us here!

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Have you ever used tweezers with your child? Or a child you work with? What creative ways do you like to enhance play with fine motor work with tweezers?

 

 

 

SMART BLACK FRIDAY SHOPPPING – making choices that are fun & thoughtful

It’s almost here….can you hear it? In my mind, it’s the sounds of doors opening to welcome family and friends, the fire crackling, the soft snowflakes quietly falling, and parents softly reading Christmas stories to the small ones tucked in the crook of their arms. Ahhhhhh…sounds nice doesn’t it? Might look like this..

The reality is that come Friday, after those delicious leftovers have been packed away, the noises surrounding many of us will be whizzing shopping carts, overheard blaring announcements of deals to be had, and wrapping paper galore dressing up those black Friday deals. Maybe something like this….

Hopefully, your reality will fall somewhere between those two scenarios! Whether you are a black Friday shopper or not (me? I will likely do some online shopping and a lot of yoga come Friday!), most of us make time shortly after Thanksgiving to do some shopping – many of us for children. I’m a big fan of trying not to overindulge my children at Christmas time, with the hope that one day when they off on their own, they’ll have a nice balance of feeling loved and really knowing the Reason we love at Christmas.  Shopping this time of year for children is a fun and exciting opportunity for PLAY in the months ahead. Toys are our children’s TOOLS OF LEARNING – when you think of it that way, choosing toys as Christmas gifts is kind of exciting. Instead of wondering if a chosen toy will end up at the bottom of the toy box, consider what your child might learn from it (and I don’t mean the alphabet all the time — there’s much MORE to learn through play. Want to know more? Click HERE).

Also – use our FREE PDF download from Medbridge Education. It’s a cheat sheet of sorts providing you the age/stage of development with suggestions for toys and activities. (simply scroll towards the bottom of the link and click the icon to download!).

As early interventionists, we get to be a “toy spies” in the homes we visit.  I always find it interesting when come February, I see the “must have” toddler toy in the corner of most homes, while the child I am playing with shows way more interest in a plastic water bottle (how many Christmas mornings have you had where your child just LOVED that box the toy came in?).  In fact, I’ve embarrassed my husband more than once by “helping” a confused grandparent in the toy aisle by providing suggestions of “what the kids really like!”

We decided to compile a list of “what the kids really like.” We arranged our list by suggested age and included toys that we ourselves have either enjoyed with our own children or have seen be consistent hits in the homes where we provide therapy. What was required to make our list? Here it is:

1. Prices varied, but the toys we chose were (in our opinions) a value for the quality.

2. Toys addressed more or one developmental domain of child development (Cognitive, Motor, Language, & Social skills).

3. These toys don’t “do it all” for the child. In other words, these toys leave room for the child to flex their own imaginative muscle, and add their own creativity to play.

4. The toys were consistent favorites with children we know (and continued to be long after December 26).

5. Toys are what we like to call “forever toys”  – toys that can be used in many ways for several years.  For more on this see our article in the months Child Guide Magazine.

Please note that we do not receive any compensation from any of these toy makers (but wouldn’t THAT be fun, though… FREE TOYS!).  We also have provided these as an example of ideas.  We certainly encourage parents to use these as a guide for suggestions, but by all means shop around! You just never know where you might get a better deal! Also, the ages listed are suggested, but as you know, many children play with toys at more than one age/stage — and often in a different way (how cool is that?!)

HERE YOU GO – OUR 2012 TOY IDEA LIST FROM SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO PLAY FOR A LIVING!

Side Note: ** Please see our PINTEREST Page to see a complete list of recommended toys by age and our FACEBOOK PAGE for our photo album of a months worth of FOREVER TOYS!

BABY:

1 YEAR OLD:

2 YEARS OLD:

3 YEARS OLD:

4 YEARS OLD:

5 YEARS OLD:

6 YEARS OLD:

 

7 YEARS OLD:

 

8 YEARS OLD:

 

9-12 YEARS OLD:

 

Likes these ideas? We have more! Specifically – ideas on WHY Play matters and HOW plays is intimately related to development in young kids. Check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me — a thoughtful gift for parents of young children (plus FREE shipping). SOUNDS like a whole lot of FUN to me!