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Do you host playdates for your young child?
Many children want to bring friends home with them to play after a morning of preschool, and that’s great! But, let’s be honest, most kids are not their best selves right after school. If your kids are anything like mine were, they are usually ravenous and cranky. They’ve been sharing all morning, and most likely, will find turn-taking at home to be hard. Because most children need downtime after school, playdates can be taxing. They are also fun, valuable, and most likely going to happen in your home at some point, so you might as well be prepared.
How to support your young child during a playdate:
Prep lunch BEFORE the school pick up. I like to set up a tray of finger foods that make lunch fast, filling, and energy-boosting. One simple idea is a snack tray filled with a bowl of carrots, a bowl of pretzels, hummus for dipping, a bowl of apple slices and some cashew butter and honey mixed to make a dip for apples. Give each child an individual yogurt cup and they can graze together on the snack tray. It is a simple, no pressure way to get a healthy energy boost into those little bodies.
Provide a simple, open-ended activity that includes a sensory component. One idea is a tinker tray of loose parts and playdough. I like this activity because it’s EASY and enticing. Pull out an old tray and fill it with interesting and colorful bits and bobs. Buy some playdough or make some home made. You can find my favorite recipe HERE. And all of my favorite playdough ingredients and accessories HERE.
When I am prepping an activity, I always try to have more than what I will need. Tired kiddos make impatient sharers, so I want to be sure to make play easy for them by having more than enough and limiting wait-time.
Incorporating a sensory component to the play can be comforting to a child who might be feeling unsure in your home environment. Playdough is attractive to ALMOST all young children. It’s familiar and can go in any direction the children take it.
Three life-saving play date tips:
Keep playdates SHORT! A playdate for a preschooler doesn't need to be longer than a hour or two at most.
ALWAYS show your guest where the potty is before you do anything else.
If there is a toy that you just know will be too hard for your child to share with his guest, PUT IT AWAY and save it for after the playdate.
Below you will find the supplies that I used in the tinker tray seen above.
For the tinker tray you could use a recyled egg carton or this one.
The mirrors are from Ikea.
How do you feel about preschool playdates? Love em' or hate em'? Do have any advice for me about preschool playdates? Talk to me in the comments below and join the conversation on Instagram by clicking HERE.
Thanks for reading along!
Let’s consider this post to be Playdough 101: Everything You Need To Know About Playdough.
Have you ever observed a child or a group of children using playdough? They are so IN IT. No one is telling them what to do, there are no complicated directions, they are free to make and create without adult intrusion. There are no lines to stay inside of and usually, there is not one prescribed task. Actually, play dough seems to be one of the last materials that we still allow children to use withou having our own agenda.
Play dough has graced the presence of almost every good preschool program for decades. There are lots of reasons that this is the case. First, it is easy to make and easy to store. You can make it with children or solo, because it’s not complicated at all. The ingredients are inexpensive and readily available. Play dough can be used by itself or with accessories that are found or purchased. There are so many great things about this versatile dough.
While it can provide hours of entertainment, play dough is not just worth it’s weight in fun. While children are using dough, they are also and exercising almost all areas of their brains.
Playdough is a fantastic tool for fine motor development. Those little hands are developing important muscles used for writing, tying shoes and zipping and buttoning all while playing.
Play dough encourages math skills. As the kids take the dough apart and put it back together they are using concepts like ‘part to whole,’ and exploring 3-D and 2-D shape awareness. They are also estimating and measuring, exploring weight and volume.
Language development? Check. Have you ever noticed how much your child chats away while playing with play dough? Our children are telling their own stories and the stories of everything around them as they process the dough through their hands and play.
Play dough offers our children a sensory learning experience that they can easily control. They can decide how intensely to squish the dough or if they’d rather poke at it with a tool. It offers children an opportunity to go at their own pace.
Finally, play dough is about creating and making on their own terms. In my book, that’s the most important kind of learning. Why? When children are in charge of the materials, and can meet them on their own terms, they have the opportunity to truly assimilate their own experiences and knowledge.
How to make playdough:
I find that cooked play dough is the easiest to make and lasts the longest. That’s just my experience, search Pinterest and you will find many other wonderful recipes that might work better for you.
Don’t feel like making it and just want to buy it? I hear you. Sometimes I don’t feel like it either. HERE is my go-to dough to buy.
Next, let’s talk storage. Any airtight solution will do. There are lots of pretty options, like glass jars or small clear jars, but my absolute favorite means of storage for homemade playdough is a ziplock bag with all of the air squeezed out. While it might no be the most attractive option, the play dough lasts months and months, without drying out or growing mold.
How to manage the mess:
One of my favorite things about playdough is that it’s NOT messy. Well-made dough will not flake and leave a trail on the floor, but just to be on the safe side, make a designated spot for playing. For small children, the floor is probable best. Put down a tray or a large cookie tin on a drop cloth or a sheet. We have THESE drop cloths and use them for everything.
For older children just pop that cookie sheet or any tray with a shallow lip up on the table. Put the drop cloth under the table and their chair. When you are finished just shake to off outside. No big deal!
Playdough is a wonderful medium for children of all ages. It’s soft, pliable texture offers a soothing sensory experience and an outlet for learning and creativity.
How do you feel about playdough? Are you on team make it or team buy it?
Looking for more like this?
My six year old has letters and numbers on the brain. After a bit of a slow-to-warm-up phase, she’s loving kindergarten. Recently, her class has been learning about skip counting. Sloane has taken it to heart and I hear her skip counting her toys, singing rhymes about skip counting in bed at night and using her fingers to figuring it all out. The other day, as I sat and procrastinated emptying the dishwasher and switching the laundry, an idea popped into my head and a skip counting activity was born.
Here’s what you need:
A Shallow Tray
Cardstock or Index Cards
I had punched a lot of circles last week for another project the were working on, so I pulled those out and labeled each circle with a number from one to fifty.
Then I poured some salt in our tray to make a skip counting base.
I set it all out on the table and left it to see what Sloane would do.
After some initial frustration because she couldn’t locate the numbers she was looking for, it was a hit. She was able to demonstrate a visual representation of skip counting by two’s, five’s and ten’s.
This activity would be a great number sense activity if you added some mini pom-poms for setting up a number line with the corresponding amount of pom-poms. In addition to practicing her skip counting, Sloane enjoyed the sensory aspect of running her fingers through the salt, drawing in the salt and making hand prints. There are lots of great ways to use salt trays to set up an invitation to create. The best part? Salt is a cheap, readily available, and you likely have it in your kitchen pantry. Have you used a salt tray?
Looking for another salt tray activity? Click HERE.
Rainbow rice is making the rounds on Instagram big time right now. If you search the hashtag, #rainbowrice, you’ll see a plethora of beautiful activities from all around the web.
What’s the deal? Why are all these people making rainbow rice? How do I make some of this magical rice? Ugh, but my kids are going to throw it everywhere and I’ll be stuck cleaning up for hours! I’ve got you covered, my friends. Let’s break this down.
Why is this material beneficial?
When your children engage in rice play they have about a million opportunities learn.
They are exercising fine motor skills. This is important for writing, zipping coats, buttoning pants, tying shoes and all sorts of life skills.
They are learning to pour, scoop and dump. Do you want your child to pour their own juice in the morning without all the mess and chaos involved? Well, practicing with sensory materials is the first step. Pouring with rainbow rice over a large tub is great practice for even the youngest toddlers.
Children are learning about math when they engage in rice play. They are practicing estimating, and experimenting with concepts of weight and volume.
When children play with rice they are story telling and delving deep into imaginary play.
Most importantly, when children are working with rice, they are engaging in child-led learning. In my opinion, that’s the best kind!
How to make simple rainbow rice:
Six lidded containers or ziptop bags.
Paint- either washable tempra paint or liquid water color.
Uncooked white rice
Divide rice into the bags or containers and drop in the desired amount of paint.
Shake it up and massage the color onto the blank grains.
Dump it out and let it air dry. It won’t take long. Maybe about an hour or so.
The Set Up Details:
Here’s how to set up for rice play without an insane amount of clean up. (Please note that there are lots of different ways to do this. )
For starters, define a space. Either outside or on a big tarp or sheet inside. If you are inside, an uncarpeted area works best.
Find a giant under the bed box and set it on the tarp. Then, take a shallow bin and put it inside the under the bed box. This is the bin where you will put the rice. Add in some scoops, spoons, small bowls and pitchers.
Using a small bin inside the larger bin is a way to contain the overflow. It spills back into the larger bin, making clean up MUCH easier.
Recently, we have been using our Ikea Flisat table for all sensory play. It is simple and defined and I just love it. If you have a young toddler, however, I would go with the bin method on the floor. Clean up will be much more manageable that way.
Managing Clean Up
Keep a dust buster and a small hand broom and dustpan nearby. Teach your littles to sweep up spills outside of the box, but know that you will need to do the majority of the work.
Define the rules and set some limits. For me, throwing of anything is out of bounds. We put it away and try again another time. No judgement, no yelling. Just simple limit setting.
Pro Tip: Start with this as an individual quiet time activity. Having children practice using the bin on their own, BEFORE adding siblings or friends in the mix is a great way to nail down the limits of what you are comfortable with.
When the play is over, SAVE your rice by sealing it in an airtight container. This can be used for months and months.
Thoughts On Food-Based Play:
When I was a classroom teacher, I never used food based sensory bins. If you are a teacher consider this as well. I didn’t want to assume anything about the food security of my students, and you shouldn’t either. As a parent, I am okay using this as a sensory base because I know that we will use it for months and months and that I will not be “wasting” something that is an important source of nutrition for many families.
Still Want More?
While I have been making rainbow rice for my children for many years, I was recently SO inspired by the amazing Anna over at Imagination Tree. Check out her blog post on the easiest rainbow rice. She is a phenomenal resource for all things PLAY.
Also? Do yourself a favor and search #rainbowrice on Instagram for a zillion great ways to use it.
Remember last week when I went on my tangent about reading readiness?
I know that Sloane is feeling ready and excited about becoming a reader so I’ve been pulling out lots of sight word activities. You all requested more activity how-to’s and this one couldn’t have been easier.
Here’s the deal…I wrote her words on little index cards, poured our jar of gem letters into a shallow bin, and set it out to see what would happen.
Guess what? She independently practiced her sight words for twenty minutes…didn’t even look up. She got in the zone and I could see her practicing, testing herself, getting frustrated and working through it, and more. All from this one activity that took me about five minutes to pull together. It was a huge win for me. Have you had any wins lately? We all deserve a little celebration for a win. Drop yours below. It does not have to be parenting related! Just tell me your latest win and how good it made you feel.
Do you want to keep your child quiet and occupied when you are eating in a restaurant? What about when you are at the doctor’s office and suddenly the wait is over an hour? Do you have a little one who you are constantly lugging around to an older sibling’s activities and you don’t want him on a screen while he waits?
With three kids, you can bet that I’ve been in all of these situations more than once. Poor Sloane spent half her toddlerhood waiting in the orthodontist’s office for Nate or sitting on a blanket at Ruby’s softball practices. She waited on the benches with me during swim lessons and sat through more than a few dinners out that were way past her bedtime.
I knew I didn’t want to occupy her with a screen during these times (ZERO JUDGEMENT IF YOU CHOOSE THIS), but I also didn’t have it in me to sit there and read her books or play with her or follow her around begging her not to lick the walls. So, here’s what I did…
I bought a bunch of these muslin pouches on Amazon and I filled them with simple, open-ended activities that were mostly mess-free and could be used anywhere. My goal was to put them together once and then have them for hours of entertainment on-the-go for Sloane and her friends or siblings.
Yes, this takes a little bit of effort up front, but the reward is SO worth it.
Here are my favorite Amazon-friendly materials for you to put together your own little activity pouches for your family, on-the-go.
First, you’ll need some of these multi-use muslin pouches.
Next, you need some open ended goodies to fill them with!
Mini Felt Balls and Wooden Numbers are a simple pouch. This is great for number recognition, patterning, color play, early math and counting. Let your child explore without guiding.
Plus-Plus Manipulatives are an easy no-brainer. Just dump them in a pouch and you are set!
Mini Vehicle Erasers and Mini Animal Erasers- These erasers are great, light weight figures for open ended play. Spill a few out on the table at a restaurant and watch your child fall into an imaginary world while you sip your wine and have an adult conversation. (These have tiny parts so if your chid still puts things in their mouths, this one is not for you.)
Tiny Colored Blocks- These are great on their own, or to add in with animals or vehicles. Just dump them into a little pouch and you are ready!
Art Pouch for open-ended art on-the-go. These materials are fantastic for grownups and children of all ages.
Click the images above to go directly to amazon and find these items. These are affiliate links, which means I get a small kickback when you purchase through my links. It does not cost you anything. Thank you for supporting The Workspace for Children.
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How can you support your child as a reader in a meaningful way?
I feel the same way about play as I do about learning to read. I believe that if you are respectful of your child’s need to play and explore at a developmentally appropriate level, you are already WAY ahead of the game when it comes to reading readiness.
First, know that reading and writing readiness is DEVELOPMENTAL. It is different for every child. Like many of you, I need to remind myself this very often. It is so hard not to compare your child to siblings and peers. I’m speaking from my own direct experience. I struggle with this almost daily.
Here are some simple, easy to follow ways that you can support your child in his or her journey to becoming a confident reader and writer:
Having a print-rich environment is always a good idea. Lots of books,magazines, signs, and opportunities to see print as meaningful. I bet if you look around your home, you already have this. See? Told you that you are already ahead of the game!
Show your child that his or her words matter. This means writing down what they say, listening carefully when they are telling you a story, or when they want to sing you a song. For little babies, this includes sounds and verbalizations.
Sing! Lots of us sing to our little babies, but then we begin to feel silly as they get older. Don’t stop singing! Make up funny songs, silly words, or even sing what you are about to do. All of this word play is tremendously helpful in growing our children up to be confident learners.
Show your child that his or her mark making, scribbling, invented spelling matters. Do this by turning your entire attention to their work. Listen and look. Do not put your own spin on it, just listen and nod encouragingly. Instead of asking what they drew, just notice details aloud and then see what THEY say about their work. Listen carefully.
Show your child that YOU read and write every day. Think out loud when you are writing. Model your thinking. Get in the habit of doing this (it feels super weird at first but is a real game changer with all kinds of learning with children).
Write and draw what they say. When they are telling you a long story, made up or true, grab a pencil and let them watch you write it all down. They can revisit it later. Maybe they will even illustrate it. Don’t make it hard though, or you’ll never do it. Any old scrap of paper will do.
Give your child access to books and open ended art materials. This can be as simple as crayons and blank paper.
Label items that your children already know. When Nate was little, I made labels with letters or words on familiar items like the milk pitcher and his bed. He would “read” the words to these very meaningful objects and see himself as a competent and capable learner. (Hmmm, maybe I should do this for Sloane.)
Place value on time spent with books and stories.Spend time reading separately but together. Sometimes we all sit and read together, but silently, each in our own books. Yes, small children can do this. It takes practice and modeling.
Keep note pads and paper everywhere. Write and draw your child notes. Even when they are small. I like to leave a note under their pillow, or in the bathroom. It’s okay if they cant read yet! It is a fun surprise to discover and you can read it to them. Show your children that print and marks are important and necessary.
Most importantly, DO follow your child’s lead. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready. Don’t forget…Kindergarten now is what first and second grade was in years past.
Develop a love of learning in general and all will be well. Always encourage risk taking, question asking and mistake making.
Of course, there are apps and reading programs that will teach your child to memorize words and letters from a very young age, but they lack relevance. In order for your child to learn the love of reading and writing that will last a lifetime they need meaningful, rich connections to the work they are doing. This happens over time. This happens with intention. This happens when we value our child’s individual development and life experience.
Over the next few weeks, you might see me working with Sloane on her literacy journey. She is “there”. She is ready. I know this because I see her thinking constantly about sounds and letters. I see her making sense of text in context. She’s sounding out street signs, menu words, etc. She’s beginning to label her own pictures and she’s spending lots of time reading to her dolls and stuffed animals.
Sloane is six. Nate was developmetally ready when he was four. Ruby was probably five and a half. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Look around at your friends. Do you know how old they were when they said their first works? When the took first steps or mastered the potty? Nope. Because it doesn’t matter in the long run. So try, as hard as I know that it is, not to RUSH reading and writing. Enjoy the journey. And when you child wants to read to YOU at bedtime? Grab a big glass of wine… it takes A LOT of patience and time ;)
I hope you found this post helpful. If you want to hear more from me, please be sure to subscribe to my blog and join the conversation over on Instagram.
I am so thrilled that many of you purchased your first set of Unit Blocks over the holidays for your little ones. They are certainly an investment, so I want to make sure that your children are actually using them!! Here is a simple guide to encouraging block play at home or in your classroom. Three simple steps. If you decide to follow them, let me know what works and what does not.
BLOCK PLAY SIMPLIFIED:
Edit Your Space
Organize The Materials
Hang Out With Your Blocks
EDIT YOUR SPACE:
Walk out of the room where your blocks live and then walk back in. What is the first thing you feel when you walk into the room? Is there a designated space for block play? How is that space defined? Is the flooring sturdy and even or is it a shag carpet?
My first bit of advice is to move some things around to make a designated area for building. There are two reasons for this. One, it shows your child that you value block play. By creating a physical space designed for building, you are helping your child to focus on creating without distraction from his or her thoughts. Think of it like this.. Do you have a designated space where you work? Maybe a desk or a table that holds your computer, important documents, and some reference books? It's easier than just plopping down in the middle of a chaotic, messy room and pulling out your computer, right? Same thing with building and playing.
This space does not have to be spacious, just make sure it's big enough for your child to move around and build without getting in her own way. If there are little siblings in the picture, it might help to put this space in an area that is protected from unsteady toddlers or speed crawlers. Maybe you could put a small block shelf in your child's bedroom or perhaps in an area of the house that his little sibling cannot access. (My sister put her block area in an enclosed pen to keep the little ones out and the builders building! Genius.).
ORGANIZE YOUR MATERIALS:
How do you store your blocks? Are they all dumped into a bin, stuffed behind the trucks and puzzles? You are not alone. Pull them out and sort them by shape. Your child can help you or you can grab a coffee and go it alone while listening to an awesome podcast. I'd go the podcast route, but that's me.
Once you have them sorted by shape, decide on a shelving system. My father-in-law built us a custom shelf to house our blocks, but then again, I am the crazy block-lady. You can use a shelf designed for blocks like this one, but these shelves are super pricey and any shelf system that you already have will do. Better yet, check out your local facebook SWAP sites. Get an IKEA hand me down. However you decide to obtain a shelf, just get one. Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world in how your child will use the blocks.
When you have your shelf in place, lay out the blocks according to shape and size. You can organize them in a manner that makes sense for you and your child. I try to make sure the larger, heavier blocks are on the bottom, but I'm not sure it really matters. The most important thing is that each shape is visually represented and can be easily accessed by the child.
HANG OUT WITH YOUR BLOCKS:
Alright! The hard part is over and all the really great learning and engagement is about to happen. Invite your child into the space that you have created. Show her how you've arranged the materials. Ask her what she might build? Will it be a house for stuffed animals or a parking garage for her race cars? Will she build flat or will her building be tall?
With reluctant builders, I might 'pre-build.' That means I might lay out a very simple structure and ask the child how he can add to it. Then follow his lead. He adds a rectangle, you do the same. Try to mirror their block building behavior. Once they get going, you can slowly step back and let them go. Remain interested, but do your own thing. You want to encourage independent play.
When I notice my children haven't been building a lot, I do one thing and it works EVERY TIME. I sit in our block area. I just sit there quietly and read on my phone or read a book to them. They usually want to go wherever I am. If I am in our block area, that's where they will be. If those blocks are organized and displayed in an inviting fashion, they can't resist them. And that, my friends, that's where the magic happens.
Here is some language you might hear me using to encourage block play.
Which shapes will you use first?
How can you use these squares to make a long, flat line? How can you use them to make a tall, standing up line?
Which blocks would make a sturdy base for your buiding?
How can you make a house for your lovey? Will it be tall or will it be down low? Will it have a roof or a door or will it be open?
Can you make a pattern using the blocks?
Which block do you like? What do you like about it? How can you use it in a building?
MORE TIPS TO ENCOURAGE BLOCK PLAY
Snap photos of your child's block building on your phone. Print them out and bind them together with a binder ring and a hole puncher.
Hang the photos around the block area to inspire your child.
Add a small basket of people and a small basket of cars to the block area. See how it changes the play.
Encourage your child to make signs for his or her buildings with a basket containing small pencil and papers. Just remind them not to write on the blocks.
I could write about the benefits of block play and how to encourage block play for hours and hours. Do you want to pick my brain? I want to know WHAT you all need help with when using blocks in your home or classroom. Leave me all your questions in the comments below and I will answer them.
Happy building, friends! As always, thank you for following along with me. If you are not already, join me on Instagram by clicking here.
Inspired by one of my favorite accounts, @mamapapabubba, I made Sloane this simple salt tray to practice her writing. Want to know how? It took 2 seconds (well, not really, but it felt fast and easy😜)
1. I poured salt in 2 small bowls.
2. Added a squirt of neon watercolor into each and mixed it.
3. Let dry (I dried mine in a low oven because I’m impatient.) 4. Mix the colors together on a clear tray and put it on the light table 💫
It was pretty impossible to resist. All three kids were writing and designing (and fighting and elbowing for space around the tray). How will you inspire learning in your home or classroom today? .
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Want to know more about salt tray learning? Pop over to Jen’s Blog to learn more.