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Archive for the ‘learning through play’ Category

Our two boys are completely obsessed with dinosaurs and recently created their own La Brea tar pit in the flower bed, so this July I thought I’d channel their paleontology interests into slightly cleaner activities (they were so covered in mud after the impromptu tar pit episode that no skin could be seen on their arms and legs and every one of their toy dinosaurs had ‘fallen in’ and been covered in wet mud).  Two of these activities were big hits, kept them occupied for a long time and didn’t require too much prep or clean up on my part.

1. Ice paleontology

You do need to plan this a day or so in advance, but it’s pretty simple to do. Just fill a plastic bucket with water, add some plastic dinosaurs and freeze. The next day, dump the dino filled ice cube on the lawn, give them some tools to chip away at the ice and invite them to be paleontologists. The boys had great fun excavating the dinosaurs and then experimenting with the left over chunks of ice.  One note of warning–the freezing process can make the dinosaurs a bit brittle. Ours survived the process without real damage, but I wouldn’t use any favourite dinosaur models just in case.

Dinos On Ice

Dinos On Ice

2. Make a fossil, Break a fossil

This was a two-day activity. On day one we made our plastic dinosaurs into fossils. The boys had great fun making the fossil mixture in their play kitchen in the garden. We mixed 1 cup of water, 1 cup of soil, 1/2 cup of sand and 1/3 cup of flour together in a bowl. We then added the dinosaurs and covered them in this dirt goop before fishing each one out and laying them on a (plastic film covered) tray to dry in the sun.

The mud mix

The mud mix

 

Twenty four hours later the fossils were dry and the boys were able to play paleontologists and excavate each dinosaur.  Again, the dinosaurs can get a little banged up as the kids chip the dirt away so I wouldn’t use any beloved models (we kept our “special Allosaurus” on one side to watch).

Cooked and ready to excavate

Cooked and ready to excavate

 

Enjoy.

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I love summer – always have: long days with nothing scheduled, nowhere to go and plenty of time to relax outside. My kids seem to feel the same. While I had been a little apprehensive that they would find all this ‘down time’ a little dull after the busy school year, they’ve really embraced the slower summer pace and are enjoying pottering around the garden inventing their own worlds and games.

That said, a day in the garden with a baby, a two-year old and a four-year old is a long time and they do sometimes look to me for entertainment.  Partly out of necessity (the Bug is currently learning to sit up and requires constant attention) and partly inspired by my educational philosophy (that preschoolers need invitations to creativity rather than organized games) I’ve been trying to find play prompts that capture their imagination, lead to long play periods, and don’t need to much adult intervention. I thought I’d share our more successful outdoors play ideas in case there are other families in need……

The Busy Town Garden Game

My older two (both boys) are interested in logistics, maps and transport. They also love the Busy Town books and have in past weeks used this books as a spring-board to ask about town organization.  To combine and extend these interests, and to keep them happily engaged outside, we invented the ‘Busy Town Garden Game’.

The Suburbs

The Suburbs

 

One afternoon I cleared the patio, took out a box of chalk and drew three boxes on the ground each a few feet apart. I labeled one the ‘school’, one the ‘shop’ and one the farm. I told the boys this was the start of their own ‘busy town’ and invited them to complete it.  They took to the idea immediately, connecting these ‘buildings’ with roads. And then the game took off and they thought about what other buildings and institutions a town needed and added them to the patio.  Over several afternoons, the map has grown ever larger with increasingly specialized businesses and vast suburbs. The boys added cars and traffic signs to the town and are asking to start building structures out of boxes tomorrow to add to their project.  I love how this has stirred their imagination. I also love how busy it has kept them.

'The Busy Town 101'

‘The Busy Town 101’

 

 

 

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Truck Farm is running a perfect contest for the outdoors toddler this month. The challenge is simply to plant a seed in the most creative place you can think of, watch it grow, take a photo of the baby plant, and send the picture to the contest website before June 10th.  I like this contest for two reasons. The first, most preschoolers will find it a lot of fun. The Monkey, my 3.5 year old, is really interested in the changes of spring this year and loves to be silly, so planting a seed somewhere odd is a perfect activity to engage his attention.  The second, it’s a great way to teach kids about science.  By planting a seed somewhere unusual (ie not in the ground) you can talk to your kids about what seeds actually need to germinate and grow.

Contest details can be found here.

The whole Truck Farm website is also worth a peek. Ian Cheney has created a small vegetable garden in the back of a flat-bed truck and is using it to educate inner-city children about farming and healthy eating: an educational, eye-catching, and low-cost idea.

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This weekend we headed up to Memorial Park to check out the old growth redwood forest.  As usual, we were the only family on the trails (although one hardy family with older children was actually camping out there for the weekend-kuodos to them!).  We fairly flew along the path as it had two key attractions for our children:  The Monkey was fascinated to discover the alphabet amongst the trees and the Puppy Dog was delighted by the banana slugs all over the trail.  Slugs really are magical to eighteen-month old boys.

If you feel like venturing into the forest, it’s a great park.  Just note the $6 day use fee and be warned that there is a distinct lack of parking near the trailheads!

Getting some learning on the trails

 

 

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We found this one in Memorial Park. The boys played here for the longest time. I’m finding many of our most successful hikes are those on which we stop and make time for unstructured play if that’s what the boys want to do.

Clambering around their forest stronghold

It's all mine!

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than playing with water?  I got the paint brushes out so the boys could paint the house with water (a favourite activity) but they soon put their own boy spin on it and started to ‘splatter paint’ the fence. Very Pollock.

Mini Jackson Pollock in the garden

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I love how quickly preschoolers learn, and how they are able to draw on their own past experiences to discover new things for themselves.  And the natural world is a great place to see this process in action.

On a hike last week we gave The Monkey a bay leaf to smell.  Since then he’s started thinking more about what he can smell when we’re outside and today he discovered a lavender bush all by himself. He was so excited to be able to show me something he’d found and so proud of his growing ability to explore his world.

Smelly

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