Introducing Loose Parts in a Play Environment

Written by Becky Williams – Early Childhood Educator and Wooden Toy Maker ChickadeesWoodenToys.Etsy.com     @Chickadeeswoodentoys

Tennessee, USA

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I remember the first time I heard the term "loose parts".  In my mind I thought of parts and pieces broken, lost, or missing from their appropriate box or game. Since then I have learned and seen how wrong that thinking was.  While the term Loose Parts has become second nature to me, you may know these toys as bits and pieces, odds and ends, little things, and even clutter.  My hope is to share my understanding and excitement so that you too can see the benefits of Loose Parts in your child's play.

 

What are Loose Parts?

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Loose Parts def. - materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  Loose parts can be natural, recycled, or synthetic materials.  Loose Parts are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. The versatility of these materials provides children with endless ways to create and explore. 

It is helpful to think of loose parts as something that will encourage children to use imagination and creativity on their own terms and in their own unique way.

Many Loose Parts can be found in your kitchen, craft room, or garage.  Some Loose Parts can be purchased very inexpensively at dollar stores or second hand shops.  Nature walks are perfect for finding and discussing natural loose parts. 

 

Introducing Loose Parts

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Start small.  When introducing loose parts for the first time, plan to start small.  Both you and your child can easily become overwhelmed with too many options.

If this is your first time incorporating loose parts into your children's play, you may hear questions like "What is this for?" or "What am I supposed to do with these?".  Answer these questions with "They can be whatever you want them to be.” or “How would you like to play with them?"  Give examples of what you would do with them in a small world setting or a building experiment.

Playing with your child will help them to feel confident to make choices and independent decisions.  You will both quickly warm to the idea of loose parts in the play environment.  The goal is to encourage creativity and imagination.

 

Using Loose Parts in Play:

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The wonderful part is allowing the children the freedom to investigate the materials, choose how they would like to use them, and take them to any area of the classroom or playroom.

A few areas where you could introduce loose parts:

  • Playdough Invitation

  • Sensory Tray

  • Block Center

  • Small World Area

  • Home Dramatic Play

  • Sorting Activity (size, color, number, beginning sound, etc.)

  • Outdoor Sandbox

  • Arts and Crafts

  • Nature Study

And on and on!

Loose Parts are yet another tool for Open Ended Play (click here to learn more) and Play Based Learning (click here to learn more).  They provide endless opportunities for creativity, critical thinking skills, imagination, problem solving, fine motor practice, gross motor practice, and so much more.  I think you will find that children are naturally drawn to Loose Parts, and you will quickly see the benefits of Loose Parts in a play environment.



5 Routines Your Toddler Should do Every Day

Written by Meghan Zacok B.Ed. Creator of New Trick Kids.

Washington, USA

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A daily routine provides comfort and consistency to a child's life. Children (and adults) feel the most secure when their lives are predictable. Routines provide children with a sense of comfort and safety, create predictable transitions, and promote repetition (which is key for learning). Check out these five routines to incorporate into your child's day!

INDEPENDENT TIME:

Independent play time is where your child plays in a safe area alone for a period of time determined by you. Independent play promotes problem solving, encourages imagination and creativity, and builds self-confidence.

OUTSIDE TIME:

Zip up that jacket and head outside! Sometimes our outside time is a 5 minute walk to the mailbox. Other days we spend the morning at the park. Being outside provides different stimulation (it activates more senses), gets kids moving and taking risks, and reduces stress.

FREE PLAY:

Simple, unstructured play is a crucial part of child development. Between storytime, play group, and music class it's so easy to fill up our toddler's schedule with structured activities. Free play encourages kids to interact with the world around them, decision-making skills, and encourages kids to use their creativity and imagination.

READ:

Reading to toddlers sets the foundation for later independent reading. You don't need flashcards to teach your child language. Read whatever books your child asks for (even if it's the same one over and over), read slowly, read expressively, talk about the illustrations, ask open-ended questions.

TIME TOGETHER:

Life is busy, but spending quality time with your child (just don't even think about that pile of dishes in the sink) is the MOST important thing you can do. Your child is only little for so long, so cherish this time being "present." I consciously set time out of the day just to sit on the floor and play together. Talking, watching, and staring at that adorable little face that keeps growing.

For more ideas, find New Trick Kids on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest!


Building a more sensitive relationship with your child: Keeping their thoughts & feelings in mind

Written by Roseann Martorana – Educational Psychologist, consultant & VIG practitioner

Montreal, Canada

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Do you ever feel like you and your child are stuck in a ‘NO’ cycle?

If you’re a parent today, you’re being pulled in so many directions at once. You may be working, you have responsibilities at home, and you have the care of your children to think about, including helping with homework and extra-curricular activities, all the while remembering to look after their social and emotional needs!

So, sometimes, when we lack the time and the energy to really stop and listen to our children, we develop negative patterns of communication with them. We forget to pay close attention to what they are trying to tell us through their words but also their behaviour, and their body language.  We miss their attempts to connect with us.

Recognise this parent?

You might notice this when you’re trying to get dinner ready and they’re at your feet, needing to tell you something that seems so urgent, and you respond without looking and a few ‘uh huh’s’, or when you’re chatting to another adult in person or on the phone and your child really wants to play a game or show you something and you shush them or make the right noises and faces of encouragement without being fully present. All of us with kids can think of many of our own examples, daily!

If we believe that all behaviour is an attempt to communicate, perhaps the difficult behaviours we experience with our children can be solved, at least in part, through adjustments in how we communicate with them…by improving our interactions and our relationships.

So how can we go from a ‘No’ cycle to ‘YES’ cycle?

For decades, research on infants and attachment has confirmed that ‘the human mind is interactive’ (Benjamin, 1990. Psychoanalytic Psychology) and we see it ourselves in the way our newborn babies stare at us and seek our continued attention.   In fact, not only are we born with the capacity and desire to form relationships, but in order to support healthy overall development, a trusting and secure relationship with a parent or carer is crucial (Bowlby. 1988).

In order to get back on the path towards a ‘YES’ cycle, it is so important, as parents, to acknowledge that our children have an internal world with feelings, thoughts and desires that may be different to ours (Allen & Fonagy, 2006) , and that finding common ground is possible. With this knowledge, we can start to build a more positive and sensitive relationship with our children that respects their developing world view.

One powerful way to rebuild our relationships with our children, and others, is to use video to help us notice moments of positive connection and build on them. By becoming more intentional in our interactions, we can begin to move towards a cycle of increasingly positive interactions.

How Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) can help.

Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is a relationship based intervention that uses video feedback to give individuals a chance to reflect on their interactions with people who are important to them, drawing attention to elements that are successful, based on the principles of attuned interaction, and supporting them to make changes where desired (Kennedy, Landor & Todd, Eds. 2011). VIG is based on the values and beliefs of respect and empowerment.

Starting with the principles of attuned interaction

The principles for attuned interaction and guidance, on which healthy and sensitive relationships are based, were developed by Biemans (1990). In order to have a cycle of communication with your child that promotes trust, open dialogue and enjoyment, there are a few necessary conditions. If you want to repair a damaged relationship with your child, these can be seen as steps that must build on each other, from the bottom up. You can try them out while playing or chatting with your child.

(Kennedy, H, Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds), 2011)

(Kennedy, H, Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds), 2011)


Be Attentive

Being attentive involves looking at your child in a friendly way, enjoying watching them (being present), and giving them time and space to communicate with you, while wondering out loud what they are doing, thinking or feeling. Notice when you do this and how your child responds.

Encourage Initiatives

You can notice the times when you encourage your child to make a ‘move’ in communicating with you. You might notice yourself waiting and listening attentively, showing warmth in your tone, being playful or friendly and naming what you see or think or what you’re doing (to invite them to join in).

Receive Initiatives

How do you respond to their attempts to interact?  Noticing the times when you show that you’ve heard or noticed them with your words, your body language or your friendly/playful manner. You might notice yourself looking at them, repeating them or smiling at them encouragingly.

Attuned Interactions

Builds on your attentiveness and encouragement of your child’s interactions with you, by focusing on how you develop the dialogue and noticing when you take turns, check that you understand your child, wait your turn, and have equal turns. In these times, you are cooperating.

Guide & Deepen

Once the trust is established and the respect is mutual, children are more likely to accept guidance. Your communication and the relationship will, in turn, be enhanced.

Having attuned interactions and positive patterns of communication with your children is very important in managing conflict (potential or actual) (Kennedy, Landor & Todd, Eds. 2011). It’s important to know, like with any skill, ‘you get what you give’. Patients and positive trusting relationships take time, practice and energy to strengthen.


For more information about what Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is and how it works, visit: https://www.videointeractionguidance.net/

*Roseann is a VIG guider currently working in Montreal, accredited by the Association of Video Interaction Guidance (AVIG) UK. If you are interested in learning more about how VIG could help you, get in touch at info@curiousneuron.com

 

References

Allen, G.J. & Fonagy, P. (2006) Handbook of Mentalization-Based Treatment. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Benjamin, J. (1990) An Outline of Intersubjectivity: The Development of Recognition. Psychoanalytic Psychology 7, 33-46

Biemans, H. (1990) Video Home Training: Theory Method and Organisation of SPIN. In J. Kool (ed.) International Seminar for Innovative Institutions. Ryswijk: Ministry of Welfare, Health and Culture.

Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. London: Routledge.

Kennedy, H,  Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds). (2011) Video Interaction Guidance: A Relationship-Based Intervention to Promote Attunement, Empathy and Wellbeing. London: Jessica Kingsley.


How to keep an infant's brain stimulated

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of www.curiousneuron.com

Montreal, Canada

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The newborn brain is developing at an incredibly fast rate. The environment plays a crucial role in a child’s brain development. A new parent might feel that it is too early to play and stimulate a newborn, but there are lots of activities that will help with brain development. I will highlight 10 activities you can do with your baby between the ages of 0-6 months. I intentionally did not divide the activities by age since every baby is different and will develop at their own pace. As a new parent, keep referring to the Developmental Milestones during the first 5 years of your child’s life. If you child appears to have a delay on any aspect of development, speak to your pediatrician immediately.

developmental milestones for 0-6 months:


10 activities that will stimulate your baby’s brain:

Serve and return:

Serve and return is one of the most important things a parent can do to help with their child’s brain development. It is based on responding appropriately to your baby’s cry, babble or gesture by responding to them with a hug, eye contact, smile, or speaking to them. Being aware of serve and return helps parents become sensitive and responsive to their child’s needs, which provides an infant with a warm and stimulating environment.

Reading books:

Even if your baby is only a few days old, reading to them is another way to stimulate them. First, they are hearing you speak, which helps with language development. Even if it does seem as if they are listening, their brain is still learning. Second, if you point to objects in the book as you speak of them, you are helping them develop their visual skills. When they begin to grasp objects with their hands, you can even take their hand and say “turn the page” and guide them to turn the page. Before you know it, they will do it on their own! Research has shown that reading 5 books a day to your child between birth and Kindergarten leads to a child having heard 1.4 million more words when they enter Kindergarten compared to children who were not read to! This in turn helps prepare them for reading and writing. For a list of books we recommend, click here.

Mirrors:

Playing in front of a mirror is a great way to help your baby learn to focus a little longer (seeing themselves is really exciting for them!) and to encourage them to “babble with another baby”! I would sit my children on the bathroom counter and chat with them through the mirror or add a little water to the sink and let them splash around. You can also place a small mirror against the wall right in front of your baby when they are doing tummy time. From my experience, this helps them spend a little more time on their tummy since they are curious about the new friend they found in the mirror.

Hand exercises (grasping):

Babies are born with a grasping reflex, but they don’t know how to do it consciously since they need to learn this. When babies as young as 2-3 weeks of age are awake, you can play with their tiny hands. When they open their hand, place a small object inside such as one of these toy rings (plastic or wooden). As they begin to open and close their hand on their own, give them small challenges by offering them something such as an Oball. As they improve, you can place a silk scarf inside a different type of ball for an added brain challenge (the goal is to get the scarf out of the ball).

Puppets:

At around 2 months, a baby will begin to follow moving objects with their eyes. To help with this milestone, you can use puppets when playing and speaking with your newborn. IKEA has some fantastic and inexpensive hand and finger puppets. You can tell your own story when using puppets, read a book and follow the actions of the main character, or simply talk to your baby while using a different voice and moving the puppet around.

Baby sign language:

When your baby wants milk, you can start introducing baby sign language to help them communicate their needs. You can begin as young as 5 months of age. In addition, when they begin to eat solid foods and drink water, you can introduce signs for “more”, “hungry” and “water”. The key to introducing sign language is to sign it every time you say the word. It will take weeks or even months for your child to learn, but once they sign for the first time, it will be wonderful! If you want to introduce the sign for “hungry”, when they point to food or cry because they are hungry, show them the food and ask “are you hungry” as you sign simultaneously. I taught both my kids sign language for a few words that really helped us communicate. Since they were able to ask for “more” or for “milk” even if they were 7 months old, they would cry less. They continued to sign with me past 24 months, and they ability for us to communicate was truly special.

Skin-to-skin:

Skin-to-skin contact (when a naked baby is placed on a parents bare chest) is really important to help a baby build a bond with their parents and also helps with a baby’s development. There are many other benefits of skin-to-skin (click on the button below) including increased milk production for the mother and reducing crying for the baby and skin-to-skin is especially important for premature babies (see Kangaroo Care). If you are about to have a baby and would like to breastfeed, ask the doctors to leave your newborn on your bare chest until they begin to nurse on their own. Do as much skin-to-skin at the hospital and when you come home as well. You can dedicate some time every day to do skin-to-skin for the next few weeks for even months. Cover your baby with a blanket to keep them warm or use a special skin-to-skin shirt such as the VIJA Design Kangaroo Shirt. To view other model’s of baby wearing shirts, click here.

Infant mAssage:

Another way to increase skin to skin contact with your baby is by giving them massages. I would massage my children right after their bath in the evening and I found that it helped them relax. On some days I would massage them 2-3 times as well since it added an activity for us to do together. I used some baby oil and I followed the instructions from a book called Infant Massage by Vimala McClure. There might be some infant massage classes in your area.

Tummy time:

You can begin tummy time with your baby as soon as you come home from the hospital. Tummy time helps reduce the risk of flat head syndrome and increases your baby’s strength. Some babies may not enjoy tummy time but keep doing it every day even if it is only a few minutes at a time (do it multiple times per day). Chat with them while they do some tummy time, place a mirror in front of them, read a book to them or play with some puppets to keep them entertained.

Executive function activities:

The term “executive functions” are cognitive or brain skills that are dependent on the child’s environment. According to research, the stronger these skills are before the age of 5, the better prepared children are when they begin school. Executive functions skills, according to the Harvard University Center for the Developing Child, are defined as, the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus our attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. You can begin helping your child build these important skills as early as 6 months of age by doing activities such as playing peek-a-boo, hiding objects under blankets, playing imitation games, singing songs that also include some hand actions such as Itsy Bitsy Spider, or having conversations with them. For more info, click on the button below.



What to avoid when you have a baby:

Screen time or background Television:

Researchers and pediatricians are warning parents about the potential negative consequences of too much screen time in young children, especially in babies under age 2. Research studies have shown that this may contribute to attentional problems later on. In fact, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time before the age of 2. Also try to keep the TV off when a baby is awake since this has been shown to overstimulate their brain as well. For more info click here or here to read our articles on screen time.

Arguing in front of babies

Even if an infant doesn’t understand what we are saying to them, research has shown that arguing in front of a baby elevates their heart rate and breathing rate since their body responds to the stress of people arguing. Being a new parent can be challenging, especially given the lack of sleep. This can lead to some difficult times in a marriage or a relationship. As parents, we need to be aware of the harm this can have on a baby’s brain and refrain from arguing in front of them as much as possible. If we argue too often with them around, it can have an impact of their brain’s stress system and they can become anxious and have difficulty calming themselves in stressful situations later on. For more info, click here to read an article.

Leaving them alone when they are awake

I often hear parents say that a baby needs to learn to be independent. Although this may be true to some extent, society has created too many objects that are used to leave babies alone and this can result in babies being alone for long periods of time when they are awake. Playpens, swings or exersaucer’s filled with all the bells and whistles to keep babies “entertained” are contributing to baby’s spending more time alone and getting less interaction with their parents and caregivers. If you need to prepare dinner, it is fine leaving your baby alone to play, but if the baby is being placed in a playpen a large percentage of the time they are awake, they are losing time to bond with you and to learn and allow their brain to develop. Speak with them when you are preparing dinner and don’t forget to interact them since your interaction is truly the only “toy” they truly need!

Avoid toys that require batteries

A toy with a battery means it will probably make noises and flash some lights. When it comes to babies, they really don’t need this. Most of the time, these toys speak too quickly. They are better for a child who is older and can understand better. Also, these types of toys are “entertaining” your child rather that a toy that your baby uses to “entertain themselves”. You want them to learn to think for themselves and figure things out when they are “bored”. Wooden toys are great to have a around them and if you want some noise, you can include rattles/rainmakers or small musical instruments that they need to move around to get noise out of.

 

More Helpful Resources for Parents with babies: