Sunday, May 25, 2008

Playspace Design

I've always enjoyed setting up my kids' playroom sort of like a mini preschool room.
"Blocking out" the room into different "centers" - or individual play areas - really organizes the room in a way that I find kids enjoy.

And guess what - this is scandalous...I even clean it up every day!

I don't even wanna fathom how many of you may be shaking your heads and rolling your eyes at that, but really, ask yourself, "Just how fun can playing in a total chaotic mess actually be?" My totally UNscientific observations have revealed that a chaotic mess leads to chaotic play. Organized - even sometimes *gasp* supervised - play leads to an experience they can focus and concentrate on, as well as very early mastery of turn-taking, and cleaning up (or "putting things back in their homes" as we like to call it here).

Of course, now that there's quite an age difference between the two boys (9 and 1), "Matchbox Car Center" butts right up to the TV and Gamecube Game hell - er, the "Entertainment Center". And in the "pretend bin" very realistic-looking machine guns and swords are mixed right in with the Fisher Price Lil Doctor's kit.

Just in case you are looking for ideas for your playroom, here's the "centers" I currently have zoned out in our playroom:

"magnet center" as mentioned in the below post (and no, I don't actually call them by these dorky names... - Okay...maybe when I'm babysitting and the only people around is a room full of toddlers!)

"car center" which consists of a car mat, a box of about 20 (not too many to pick up, not too few) Matchbox cars, and big spiraly garage-plaything handed down to me from my cousin's boys

"dress up/pretend" center

"music center" which consists of a keyboard on a little toddler sized table, and a gigantic rolling cart filled with musical instruments we've collected over the past ten years

and the aforementioned "entertainment center" for the tweenyboppers.

Also on shelves I have a puzzle organizer with about 6 wood-knob puzzles I scored for 14 bucks at the local kid's clothing consignment shop (we have about 10 other puzzles, which I rotate in and out of the playroom closet), and a wide assortment of blocks I'd like to continue to add to.

I keep pondering what to do with the ten tons of miscellaneous sized bouncy balls which Sam won't let me chunk, and Charlie is so fond of, but neither kid plays with currently. I wonder if I could find a good plan for a giant-sized PVC ball maze? Something the kids could easily engineer in different configurations, and send bouncy balls through? Hmmmm....

And there are still many ways in which our playroom could be enhanced (like livening it up with paint, for one, and hanging kid artwork on the walls, for two...both of which you'd think I'd have already done since I'm a painter by trade, hah!), but I've found that labeling things in clear, easy-access bins, shelves and other containers, and blocking out the room in fun mini-centers, leads to kids exploring and role-playing in a fun-to-discover environment. Also, keeping a clean, organized space motivates me more to frequently update it and switch things in and out of use and actually go in there from time to time to play with them!

Magnet Board!

Browsing through Target one day, I passed by a big magnetic whiteboard and picked it up and wanted it - really wanted it - for some unnameable reason! I held it (wide, it was a big one) in my hands, and tried to brainstorm, between feeding Charlie bits of snack bar pretzel, and maneuvering around the scrapbooking mamas and college students that for some reason had suddenly flooded the aisle, ways in which I could put it to good use for Charlie (age 1) and Sam (age 9) and the varying ages of kids who visit regularly.

So....I bought the board, and went next door to Staples and bought some magnetized printer paper and figured I'd just wing it when I got home. For my 9 year old, I Googled all of his favorite sports team logos and players, as well as various animals (all kinds of snakes, birds, butterflies, sea creatures) and copied/pasted them into a Word document, to print out onto the magnet-paper. We cut them out and before I knew it, he and Summer (his best friend) were playing "magnet board football" and "nature school".

For the littler kiddos, they enjoy the animals, as well as trees and flowers, geometric shapes, words (ie., their names, other easy sight words - "ball" etc.) in fun fonts, even our family's faces, and the faces of their friends (to which, I had to add bodies to with my handy Sharpie marker)!

Fun fun. And the best part is that it's multifunctional. You can gather up the magnets before a car trip and bring along a cookie sheet for portable magnet fun!
Here's Charlie in front of the Magnet board...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Taking the Time To Teach

As a parent, I've learned I'm always "on" - always teaching.

Something interesting to try...Instead of banning little, incredibly interesting bits of fun (such as dice, marbles, legos, magnets, game pieces, and everything else wonderful and colorful and exciting) why not take the time to explore them together, with your toddler...?

My experience is that if something is discovered and experienced with direction, it is more likely to be handled correctly, later on.

In Charlie's case, I've noticed that he almost goes into a trancelike state (I'm not exaggerating, its comically noticeable to others too!) when anyone starts explaining most any kind of concept to him - it could be anything from the benefits of not stepping in cow-poo at our nearby peice of property, to what something is used for, to just about anything, if it accompanies an explanation. He loves it, for some hey, I go with it...!

So, the other day he had a huge time playing with big brother's marble collection.

Just a measuring spoon for scooping and pouring - and our voices, talking about how fun it is to scoop marbles with our hands, rub a big pile of them under our hands and feet, dumping them out of the box, look through them when light shines through them, whatever else comes up! Just take the time to sit and explore with them - it can actually be a relaxing few minutes out of your busy day, and I figure, the more he can count on me to explore and learn with him now, the more open he'll be to instruction from me, later on down the road...(don't know if that's true or not, but it sounds like a good theory, doesn't it?! Hah!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rainy Day Stuff

After two days in a row (today being rainy) babysitting for my neighbor's kiddos (ages 3 and 4) plus mine (18 months), I feel somewhat qualified to remark on Things To Do When Its Rainy Outside With A Houseful Of Wild Younguns...

We started the morning inside - I dragged out the big cardboard playhouse we've had since my nine-year-old was about 4 (we decorated it with stickers and markers and colors for one of his birthday party activities). I'm totally impressed by the way that thing has stood up for so long now! Way worth the $25 or $30 I paid for it.

Then we moved to the coolish, sprinkly weather outside. Our driveway tends to collect puddles, so besides stomping around and driving ride-ons through them, I filled up a few clear Rubbermaid tubs with water, added some paintbrushes, measuring cups for pouring, plastic spraybottles, little animals from the playroom, and some floaty ping pong balls and they had a great old time just getting wet, pouring, squirting and spraying to their hearts' content!

A few weeks ago, when it was sunny, we squirted in a few drops of food coloring to the water bins - before playing, we stopped for a few minutes to observe the colors swirling into the water - when we did more than one color, we enjoyed watching 2 colors combine to make a new color! My 4 year old friend was the official "color mixer" and enjoyed stirring away until the two primaries made a surprise of a secondary!

Something else I think that is crucial to have is a big wooden easel. Ours has a whiteboard on one side/chalkboard on the other, and although the chalkboard side is wearing thin, big sidewalk/driveway chalks work really well on it. So I brought it out, too. After they colored the chalk side up well enough, we used multisized cheapo paintbrushes and water from the bins to wash it clean.

I don't know what it is, but washing chalkboards and wiping clean a whiteboard is somehow appealing to that age group...I say, "Wash on, people...wash on!"

Friday, May 2, 2008

Color Blending for the Toddler and Preschooler Set...and even the older ones!

A few color-blending ideas used in my preschool classes, as well as at home just for fun:

Rainbow Stew
Easy to mix up the night before, and a fun sensory experience for the kids to find at their spots at the table in the morning.

Rainbow Stew Recipe

In a small pot mix about 1 cup of cornstarch with some water. Heat the mixture up until very thick. Remove the "stew" from the heat, let cool and place in a sturdy Ziploc food storage bag. Add several drops of different colored food coloring in miscellaneous places around the "stew" and secure the top of the bag with duct or clear shipping tape, to help prevent inquisitive fingers. If you think you're child might be extra rough with the stew (pounding it with something other than a gentle hand), you might consider double-bagging it.

Color-Surprise Playdough
Make a batch of play dough and leave it white. Form several balls of the dough and place a drop or two of food coloring in the middle of the ball. Give the dough to the children to play with. They will be very surprised when the dough starts turning colors! They can also knead together two different balls to see what colors they can make.

Use a big, shallow clear plastic storage container as the "base" (those sweater boxes for underbed storage are perfect).

Line the bottom of the container with a bunch of clear plastic cups (white would be next-best choice).

Fill most of the cups half full with clear water.

Then fill the others with primary colors: red, yellow, and blue water made with either liquid water color or food coloring mixed with water.

Give each child either a teaspoon or a cleaned, leftover medicine eyedropper (or even a small turkey baster) and let them become little scientists--they will discover how to make all kinds of new colors.

This is a very inexpensive project that kids love to do over and over. A perfect thing for kids of all ages to do within ear or eye-shot on the porch while you're fixing dinner.

...More to come!

Toddler Watercolor Fun

When they get bored with the sprinkler or the kiddie pool,
and especially if your toddler comes with an artistic bone,
let them go to town with watercolors (Crayola makes the "big" kind) on the driveway.
I haven't tried that yet, but my friend Lynnell lets her kiddos watercolor right on the cement.

When I had Sean and Sydney (my neighbors kiddos, whom I babysit for sometimes)
over this last week, I dragged out a few clear Rubbermaid bins and filled them with water. With food coloring, I tinted each kid's bin a different color (their choice), and because the bins were see-through, we first enjoyed watching the colors swirl and blend together. Don't forget to talk about and "observe out loud" how 2 colors can blend together and make a new color! Sean (age 4) - our official stirrer - went to town and helped me get purple just right for Sydney and green just right for Charlie.

Next time I'll go to Sam's room and drag out the big chalkboard easel. This time, I added a bunch of old paintbrushes (the big cheap ones you can pick up in the hardware/paint section of Walmart) and some spray bottles and let me tell you, three kids had a grand ole time on the driveway while I basked in the sun and got a little sundamage!