About Jodi Dee

Mother, Author, World Traveler Philanthropist, and Blogger in the Quest for Truth, Happiness, & Enlightenment... jodidee.com

Sensory Play Provides Year-Round Fun and Creative Learning

Sensory Play Provides Year-Round Fun and Creative Learning

Water play or water tables evoke thoughts of summer fun, but sensory tables can be used all year-round — outside or inside.

Sensory tables enable exploration, discovery, and experimentation with all types of materials, such as earth and water. Children investigate, explore, and create. By pouring and feeling it, they learn how water moves, and experience concepts, such as gravity, hands-on. Children learn through touch how to manipulate objects and their environments. They experience sensory exploration, develop math and science concepts, fine motor skills, and more. A sensory table may seem like a simple resource, but when used properly, it is one of the best investments and tools an early educator or a parent can make.

I purchased two sensory tables from environments.com, a shorter one (18 inches high) for when they were really small, and a larger one (24 inches high with an 8-inch-deep tub) when my oldest turned 4. When you purchase a sensory table, size matters, because toddlers will not be able to reach into a tall table. A child should be able to stand up naturally and reach in easily to touch the bottom. My oldest is almost 5 feet tall and can still use the large table for play. However, if there is not enough space for a sensory table, or you have budget restraints, buy a large, flat, plastic storage bin or any large plastic container (no taller than 8 inches for the safety of young children). Buckets also work for smaller areas.

A sensory table doesn’t require elaborate planning or fancy projects to keep children interested. I have seen wonderful ideas and books on related activities, but with three children I rarely had the time to set up and do them. Instead, I used simple things as a base, like water or sand, and added other items that would spark their imagination.

Regardless of the material — sand, water, snow, uncooked pasta, etc. — all you need to do to keep it interesting, new, and fun is weave in various materials: measuring cups, bottles, bowls, and any other type of plastics from the kitchen. Children love anything that can measure, fill, dump, splash, sift, poke, pour, squirt, squeeze, or simply hold a substance. For water, anything that can shoot water (water gun, turkey baster, oral medicine syringes from the pharmacy, etc.) is a hit.

Sometimes I hid things in the sand or snow, like coins or smooth glass pieces I had from an unused mosaic kit. The girls pretended they were pirates finding treasure. They loved using strainers or just digging in the sand with their fingers. They would then take turns hiding the “jewels” and finding them. These jewels also were sorted and organized, and placed in a hierarchy of most valuable to least valuable (all with no adult intervention). I rotated in marbles or dinosaur bones from another unused kit. Now they were archaeologists; I was shocked when my oldest used that word at age 6. Adults do not need to teach or orchestrate play, just facilitate it with the right tools.

I stole the idea of a sandbox filled with dried corn from a fair I attended, and used it in my water tables for pouring, touching, or as a road for toy trucks. My kids loved it. Be sure to use it outside first because the corn gets dusty. You can buy corn, or even bird seed, at any local farm or animal supply store.

I also incorporated other props while using a sensory table, such as a small baby pool, different-sized buckets, or bins. I usually had one or two plastic kitchens (which I found on the side of the road) that I kept outside. When the table was full of sand, a few buckets, and a hose, the kitchen would change from pretend play to experimental play, “cooking” with dirt, rocks, and sticks. Expect a mess: Mud pies, nature soups, dirt sandwiches — all mixed with grass, rocks, and twigs — will create one, but little scientific minds will be growing and creativity flourishing. The jobs get messy, and children should be encouraged to do so.

During indoor play and colder days, I would set up the sensory table in the kitchen or mud room. I tried to use the sensory table two or three times a week, especially when the children were in preschool part-time. The table was filled with water, sand, Play-Doh, Floam, Magic Sand, snow, leaves, pasta, rocks, bubbles, flour, corn, rice, or anything that is safe to touch and explore with little fingers. And eat: Children love to drink the water, eat the snow or pasta (even raw). Make sure items are clean and edible (if eaten), and if not, that a child is old enough not to put them in his or her mouth.

Water was the most frequent and easiest to set up; it is also an easy resource to change with food coloring or by adding bubbles. Food coloring is great in snow. Maple syrup is super fun and tasty in the winter, and can be scooped up with little spoons or popsicle sticks. Heating it up makes the snow melt a little and is a great, sticky treat. Get creative, throw things in, and watch the children explore.

When the weather is warm, I left the table outside in the driveway for weeks. I alternated between water and beach sand that I brought home in a bucket from the ocean. Beach sand is very fine and great for straining and pouring.

Water play is always easy and effective. Set it up full of measuring cups, a few plastic storage containers, and plastic oral medicine syringes from the pharmacy. A hose will host hours of fun: water games, car washes, pouring jobs, splashing, water fights, “bathing,” and more. Combined with a hose, sprinkler, or an outdoor plastic kitchen, a sensory table and a few buckets transform a driveway into a water park.

Often my children put the water table on the ground, filled it, sat in it, dumped it to make a stream to lay in, pretended it was a pool or boat, and more. Most of these scenarios my children created, I simply provided the tools. We also mixed up activities with bubbles, food coloring, sponges, Q-tip, old rags, sprayers, and even paint brushes.

Painting with water is super fun. Cutting up a sponge or rags into small pieces adds an element of play, whether playing car wash with toy cars, their bicycles, or helping wash the family car. Children also love things their size, like little bars of soap.

Material Ideas for Sensory Play

Base Material
* Water
* Snow
* Play-Doh
* Sand (play sand, beach sand, Moon Sand)
* Ice
* Different types of seeds (bird seeds)
* Corn
* Flour and water
* Shaving cream
* Oobleck (cornstarch and water)
* Weeds and grass with roots
* Shredded paper, confetti
* Slime
* Foam packaging
* Shells, pebbles, stones
* Collection of things that shine: mirrors, CDs, flashlights
* Broken toys or items to take apart
* Potting soil (without chemicals)
* Magnets and metals (cans, tools)

Rotate In
* Measuring cups
* Measuring spoons and utensils
* Different types of bottles (plastics and recyclables work well)
* Sifters and colanders
* Tweezers and egg cartons for sorting
* Straws
* Balls, marbles
* Small plastic toys for hiding
* Colanders, sieves, pitches, colanders
* PVC piping
* Digging shovels, buckets, cups
* Food coloring
* Pipe cleaners, Q-tips, popsicle sticks
* Paint brushes
* Bugs or sea creatures, collections
* Toy cars
* Beach toys

For the article published in Bay State Parent: https://www.baystateparent.com/2017/12/21/sensory-play-provides-year-round-fun-and-creative-learning/

Four Ways to Teach Children Emotional Maturity

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Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. What you do with them however, usually makes them right or wrong. With children this can be a challenge, because self-control is an ever evolving part of growing up. The emotional energy a child experiences can be overwhelming; from stubbing their toe in pain, angst in taking the bus for the first time, tasting their first succulent taste of ice cream, to a sibling ripping a toy out of their hand. Life is fundamentally a crux of positive and negative energy, and young children have not yet developed adult filters or control. This can cause lashing out, crying fits, temper tantrums, fighting, or the opposite, exploding with excitement, jumping up and down, and yelling in a store. Emotional maturity and mastery comes from being able to confidently recognize, acknowledge, experience, and properly deal with all types of emotion.

The topic of emotional intelligence first became popular in 1995, with the New York Times bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, published by Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. He is also the author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. There are many models of emotional intelligence, often comprised of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. This has become a popular field of study and research by top educators and leaders. Many believe EQ is more important than IQ for success. According to Talent Smart, 90% of high performers at the work place possess high EQ, while 80% of low performers have low EQ.

Reason and consequence evolve as children grow, and they need guidance, encouragement, and support to help navigate and develop their emotions based on different situations they experience.

Ways to Teach Emotional Maturity

  1. Talking & Sharing

Having conversations and simply talking to a child is a powerful way to teach emotional maturity. Being able to express yourself is not only a powerful skill but it is puts the responsibility on how you feel and why on “you”, empowering a child to deal with any situation from a place of clarity and confidence (and not as a victim).

Each night as you put your child to bed, or at another quiet time of the day, ask your child about their day and the experiences they had. See what things they did, what they want to talk about, what they liked or didn’t like, or what they want to share, good or bad. Open a dialogue daily, so they are free to say what they think or feel, in a safe place and learn to enjoy and share the myriad of feelings they have. If your child is not a big talker (some are and some aren’t), an alternative, is when reading books, see if your child would feel the same in the same circumstances as the characters. Being able to express ourselves freely and without judgement (be who we are) is what we all yearn for, especially children – unconditional love!

  1. Detach with Love

When talking with your child, detach with love. Just listen! Do not try to fix, control or change the child’s feelings (or experience). I know this is hard as a parent, especially if our child is in pain or suffering! We want to fix it. But allow them to express what they are thinking and feeling, without judgment. Often we just need someone to vent to, to listen to us, to witness us. Often, once we burn off the energy (positive or negative) we can think clearly. It is easier to deal with an issue once the emotion has lost its steam! Sometimes a child just needs to cry to release the pain they may be feeling. A friend may have said something mean, or even a teacher may have said something or reprimanded them. It hurts! But once the pain is gone, it loses its power, and suggestions are much easier to receive. Such as; “tell the friend what she said hurt her feelings, tell a teacher if it continues, walk away, or find a new friend to play with” or “did you tell your teacher it wasn’t you, or that you were sorry, or that you didn’t understand the question”. Feeling confident to say what you think and feel is powerful!

  1. Recognizing Triggers

We are all in an energetic exchange and transaction with everything around us! Children are small fiery ball energy and just by proximity to each other fuel each other. Just watch 5 seven year old boys in a room and you will witness this!

A trigger is a term coined to identify and recognize the things outside of you that affect you. A trigger can simply be a sibling taking a toy away, waiting for the bus knowing the big kid who yells will be in the back, the tone of your mother’s voice when everyone is running late, to knowing it is a half day! Children (and adults) are affected by everything around them. Being aware of this helps to recognize self-control. Either the child can talk about their bad feelings as they arise or they can figure out a coping strategy (walking away, breathing deeply, or other). If the big boy at the back of the bus is scary, sit in the front. If seeing Mommy getting upset bothers him, learn to check the time and get your shoes on as soon as you finish breakfast. This is a great skill to teach that you are responsible for what happens and can influence it!

Being able to identify and understand what is causing a child to experience something in a particular way (negatively or positively), puts the responsibility on the child. If a friend is teasing and keeps doing the same thing over and over again, there are always options and solutions. Why choose to spend time with someone who isn’t nice, fun, or doesn’t make you feel good! Find a different friend, say hi to someone new! Being able to recognize a trigger without being reactive; retaliating, fighting back, or lashing out is emotional maturity. The child also is given a choice on how to act, and know there will be consequences if they retaliate. Even if the other child started something or was wrong, if he hits back he will also get in trouble.

Nothing can truly affect you unless you let it. Recognizing triggers allows a child to realize he or she is not a victim to what is happening outside of them, and that we are in control of how we act, feel, and what we experience but most importantly have a choice.

  1. Follow Your Feelings

Feelings are how we experience life – good and bad. Feelings are our inner guidance system! We can teach children to use feelings to navigate life. Once a child learns to share openly (talking) and to recognize triggers they can follow their feelings to answers. Feelings show us what we like and don’t like, want or don’t want.

For example, if they do not like playing soccer and constantly do not want to go, it could be for a myriad of reasons. The child may not like a girl on her team, or her coach said something she didn’t like, or she just simply doesn’t like playing anymore. By talking about it, as a parent you can help identify and deal with the real issue. Often children make comments when they are in an emotional tornado, “I hate soccer, I don’t want to play anymore:”, but that is not really what the issue may be. By helping follow her feelings, first expressing and releasing the pain or hurt, she can then discuss why. “The coach yelled at me because I wasn’t paying attention on the field”. It seems simple but children can’t always articulate the issue behind the emotion. It is much easier to offer solutions when we can get to the real issue. I gave my daughter a small stress ball to play with on the field because she was bored (sometimes it seems like the ball never goes to them when they are very small).

Asking open ended questions are a great way to open a dialogue. An openended question is designed to encourage a meaningful answer and a response with more than one word, using a child’s own knowledge and/or feelings. “What makes you feel like you don’t want to play soccer anymore?” or “What happened that made you upset”? A closed-ended question, is designed to get a specific answer, a short or single-word answer, a simple “yes” or “no”, or a specific piece of information. “What kind of ice-cream do you want?” or “Do you like to play soccer?”

By helping a child explore and talk through their feelings the true issue can be found. Great open ended questions are, “Why are you upset?” “What happened to make you feel this way?” “Is there something that we can do”?

Emotions, whether “good” or “bad”, are both natural and healthy. It is important to help children learn that all feelings are OK. Learning how to deal with feelings is critical for proper social and emotional development. Suppressing feelings can lead to long-term mental or health problems, such as behavioral issues, anxiety, depression, physical illnesses, and more. Children need to feel comfortable and confident in what they feel, in how to share their feelings and deal with them appropriately. By following the simple steps above, even though it seems simple, children can learn to enjoy the emotional kaleidoscope of feelings and as a guidance system towards what they want or desire. With emotional maturity, children have confidence in themselves, in their identity, and grow to become healthy adults.

Click here to view the Baystate Parent Article!

 

Kitchen play is hours of screen free fun!

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Food and food preparation is a large part of childhood (being fed to learning how to eat to watching food be prepared to going to restaurants). Playing with pretend food, cooking, serving, and shopping are wonderful play and learning activities for children and will evolve as they grow.

Having a pretend kitchen, collection of kitchen items, and play food are perfect toys for discovery and proper development for any young child. My 8 year old decided to set up a restaurant outside on the swing-set. My 10 year old acted as the “Manager”. I ordered and played the customer. Children will learn how to simulate cooking, use their imaginations, negotiate, order, take orders, and more!

SUPPLY IDEAS:

  • Play Kitchen
  • Pretend food, empty & clean recycled plastic containers, egg cartons, cereal & pasta boxes, plastic vegetables and fruit, other
  • Kitchen accessories: plastic plates, cups, forks, spoons, spatula, ladle, measuring cups, other)
  • Small shopping cart, plastic shopping bags
  • Play cash register
  • Pretend money or make pretend money (for older kids)

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Imagine giving a bicycle to an adult who has never seen or ridden one, and not showing them how or what to do. The adult may be able to figure it out, but it is unlikely. The person would try, fall, and probably never ride again.

A child, new to the world, is the same. If you give a child a cup, they will hold it for a minute, then drop it. Without instruction, the cup holds no purpose for the child, and he or she does not know the possibilities. However, if you create the proper setting and facilitate learning, giving this same child a cup and a spoon full of water, the minute will turn into five. If you give the child a spoon and a cup with a bucket of water outside, or with pasta or bubbles, the five minutes will turn into thirty, and so on. Rather than simple observation, the activity will turn into exploration and a rich sensory integration experience.

Open your mind to the possibilities and opportunity you have to create a home of learning. This is not a daunting task or more work. I actually had more free time because I took the time to facilitate such an environment, which kept my children occupied. I was not their sole source of entertainment. I kept my children busy, learning through play, while I was able to do the dishes, make phone calls, check email, or do other things. I also had the peace of mind knowing I was giving them the right opportunities of discovery and exploration, not sticking them in front of a TV so I could have a break (even though I did do that at times). And teaching happens naturally in this type of rich learning environment because it also keeps you engaged in your child’s development and progress. They will ask for help, guidance, and engage you with questions.

By being conscious of the constant opportunity you have to create and facilitate learning while a child plays, you can also become your child’s greatest teacher. The concepts of structuring a child’s environment and learning how to facilitate it around the home and beyond will become a new way of life.

A facilitator’s role is to create a positive and enriched environment with resources and circumstances for enhanced learning and development. Many parents believe they are doing facilitation right, providing play dates, sending the child to preschool, signing them up for soccer, or even buying them the toys they want. And these are ways to facilitate a child’s life. However, without facilitating learning, much of our opportunity to serve as the greatest resource for our growing and ever-changing child is lost.

The importance of play

Young children learn when they play — and work very hard when they do. They use all their resources and energy to participate in and make sense of the world around them. Children learn when challenged by settings and tools that foster their growing skills and abilities. A child’s brain triples in size the first three years of life and absorbs more information than any other time. The first five to eight years are the most important in preparing a child for what is ahead: establishing confidence, independence, and a joy for learning. The home environment can set the stage for all future life experiences, interpretations, development, competency, and understanding.

We have the opportunity right in our homes to facilitate learning by using the toys, practices, and techniques that naturally target the learning domains of a developing child. We can bring the resources any accredited program offers and implement them right in our homes. Materials and concepts used in nationally accredited early learning programs have been developed and used by early childhood practitioners and educators for decades, combining experience, knowledge, and practical application.

Parents can offer the same rich experiences and create the same environment at home. This approach can begin as soon as a child can crawl and can be used through formal schooling (to age 8 and beyond), providing years of discovery and fun. The objective is not to create a preschool in the home, supplement a preschool experience, or create an academic world. Creating a home of learning is not building a prescribed, teaching-based environment, but rather providing the child with the right toys and resources to experiment, discover, evolve, and grow through play.

Inside Learning Areas

In national accredited early learning programs, learning domains — essential areas of learning in proper development — are targeted and promoted by using specific toys and equipment through intentionally designed work and play centers. Centers are dedicated areas for art, blocks, discovering science, dramatic play, literacy, math and manipulatives, music and movement, sand and water play, technology, or more. In these areas, toys are rotated, and activities are changed regularly, often following a curriculum or theme. Centers are also designed to accommodate multi-aged children’s interest and abilities.

The concept of centers can be implemented easily in a smaller home setting, by setting up spaces called Learning Areas. There are 12 dedicated Learning Areas (see diagram, next page.) Each is designed to target learning domains and facilitate proper development through different types of play. All areas should be established, but you can start with a few toys or items in each and add as you go. Toys and equipment will evolve with age and competence. Children between ages 3 and 6 will require more complex and rich play, where infants up to age 2 will be more interested in shapes, colors, textures and sizes, and exploring toys rather than engaging in play with them.

If you do not have a large enough space for all the Learning Areas, some can be established in different parts of the home. When my children were very small, the easel served as the Art Area and the Writing Area, but as fine motor skills and writing became more developmentally appropriate, I established a dedicated Writing Area. I have a small, sturdy, round table and four chairs in my kitchen with a clear plastic three-drawer container that holds different types of paper, crayons, markers, scissors, paints, glue, colored pencils, and more.

The 12 basic Learning Areas and sample equipment:

1. Center Activity Table (for manipulatives and free play collections)

2. House Area (babies, changing station, kitchen, dress up clothes)

3. Climbing & Movement Area (climbing structure, rocking horse, sit and spins)

4. Play House Structures Area  (various houses to play in)

5. Art Area (easel or small table and chairs)

6. Reading Area (bookcase, books, reading area, cushions, soft elements- blanket)

7. Listening Area (recorder, CDs)

8. Writing Area (small table and chairs)

9. Construction Area (blocks, cars,car tracks, parking garage, dinosaurs)

10. Doll House Area* (full-size doll house or Barbie house)

11. Sensory Table (i.e., water table)

12. Outdoor Area (chalk, balls, jump ropes, other)

To small children, the world feels very big. This is why we create Learning Areas and a set up a playroom sized just for them. Everything in the playroom should be in reach of and be able to be used by the child. A child’s play space should be their own little world. Items, such as tables and chairs, should be child-sized,

All children are alike and all children are different. Some will naturally be drawn to and play in certain workspaces and with types of toys or equipment more than others. Some children may spend most of the day playing with blocks or cars, while others may be in the reading space looking at books. This is normal and healthy. Learning is influenced by many factors: genetic heritage, age and size, sex or gender, culture (home and community), interests, ability and disability, and medical conditions.

Offering children choices of Learning Areas, toys, and activities will give you insight into their interests and abilities, and you will find yourself changing your setup to accommodate their interests. However, if a child needs work in one area, it is important to facilitate them to that activity or area. Some children may need to practice coordination, such as using their large muscles for climbing or pumping a swing.

Areas of learning will cultivate a whole and competent child with the foundation necessary for success. Understanding how children play, the right toys to provide, and techniques to follow will transform the life of your children and open the world of learning and discovery right in your home. For more information, visit Facebook or createahomeoflearning.com.

Published in Baystate Parent Magazine this month! “How to Create a Home of Learning
Click HERE to view article in Baystate Parent Magazine!

 

 

 

A little bleach and water = new!

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Today’s find on the side of the road!  will turn this into new, plastics are very durable (and saved me @ $100). Different types of “houses” are a very important part of imaginative play. Children can use them with dolls, Shopkins, Fisher Price people, Star Wars figures, or other. Houses add a component to play that allows children to pretend and create scenarios they experience every day (going to school, the doctors, and even just being at home). Having different house options changes the dynamic each time when they are alternated in and out. I always pick these up on the side of the road when I see them. And, when my children outgrow them or our collection of houses get too large, I donate them. I love seeing my girls faces of excitement when a “new” house waits for them as they get off the bus! Hours of fun to come!

Different options = exploration!

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A room with different options provides children the opportunity to explore and find their interests! However, even if a child is drawn to a preference like dolls, it doesn’t mean they will always play with those toys. Nor should you get rid of toys they don’t play with frequently. Just put them away. When toys are reintroduced, weeks or even months later, every time they are taken out they feel like new! This is called “rotating the toys”. My son didn’t play with the construction toys for weeks but this week he used them often.
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