Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Natural Play in the Suburbs, Part II

This post is all about loose parts.

And no, I don't mean the nuts and bolts you have left over after putting together that new play set.

In the realm of child development--more specifically that pertaining to natural play--loose parts are items kids can play with that have no set use. For example, a keyboard is not a loose part. It's meant for music. The same thing goes for slides, bikes, rocking horses, the list goes on. A lot of these toys are great, wonderful for a child's development, and worth the time and money to get--they just usually have a set use.

Loose parts do a better job of encouraging imagination and creativity. The outdoors is full of loose parts. In my opinion, sticks are the ultimate example. They can be magic wands, hiking sticks, writing utensils, swords, guns, building materials for forts and rafts, and something to use to play with the dogs (and more). Grass, flowers, leaves, rocks--they can all be loose parts.

If you try, you can find loose parts inside. In our experience, tupperware is a good one. It can be used for building, for music, for sorting. The colander proved to be a favorite. I'm glad we had two, because Norah was always using the other as a stool, a hat, a drum, a basket, or something to scoot across the floor on. And then there's a box. Need I say more? Getting together a small collection of loose parts inside does wonders on a rainy day. Some other possibilities: wrapping paper tubes, couch cushions, legos (sort of), a sand tray with different items inside. Can you think of any others?


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Another Gray Hair

Anyone who has worked with groups of kids knows they learn from watching each other. Whether for good or bad, it's there. Norah takes this watching to the next level.

Norah, this sort of defeats the whole run and play reason for coming to the park...
She can hardly take her eyes off the other kids or parents on the playground. It doesn't matter if she's walking up stairs, running on the pavement, or standing right at the top of some fun thing like a slide or wobbly bridge, completely oblivious to the children behind her wanting their turn, she's watching. Sometimes it does get a little weird...

Norah, watch where you're going, you're going to fall off the steps.

  I worry she's going to hurt herself, either from not paying attention to what she's doing (which almost happened today--well, everyday) or trying something the big kids were doing (which also almost happened earlier this week). It was a very steep corkscrew slide with a low side that went around twice before leveling out at the bottom. She saw a little boy going down and thought she would too.

That isn't creepy at all, Norah Grace.

Now, I usually don't go up on the playground equipment with Norah unless it's still too dangerous with me following her along on the ground where she's usually within reach. I was standing next to the slide.

Had she sat on the farthest side, it would have been fine. Fast, only slightly dangerous, but fine. However, she sat on the inside, which would have given her a near-vertical drop about as far as I am tall.

"I think she's about to take a tumble," said a guy whose son was playing on the same slide. Apparently, we were on the same train of thought. I climbed the slide and we slid down together, safe and sound.

Norah, just because you saw the four year old boy doing that doesn't mean you need to.
You seem to forget he fell halfway down the slide. 

I can't take my eyes off this little girl. She has no fear. She gives me more and more gray (and white) hairs every day. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My, How Things Have Changed

If you've been following my blog for more than just a few weeks, you know that my family and I just moved back to the US after our four year stay in Germany.

And my, how things have changed.

At first it didn't seem that significant. Yeah, I saw more people oblivious to the world, heads bent over their smartphones, than there were in the first half of 2009, but I didn't think much of it.

It's just now, after a month and a half of being back in the good old USA that I'm beginning to have a grasp on how smartphones have changed American society.

When we left, I felt like smartphones were a luxury. People had them, but they weren't so widespread. Now they've been ingrained into our lives in a lot of different ways that weren't so apparent in Germany. Everyone is expected to have one. Not only our we expected to have one, we are expected to be reachable at any moment.

The work lives and personal lives of Americans are now even more enmeshed than before. Your clients and your employer should be able to contact you at any time and they do because they assume you have a smartphone, therefore you can be contacted. In fact, I'm buying a house right now almost completely through email. Sometimes these emails are time sensitive and I need to get them and respond quickly. The only way I can do this up until now is at home because I put off getting a smartphone.

Our interactions with other people have changed. Facebook and twitter seem to be used much more than before. People don't call to make plans, they text or facebook message and assume others can check their facebook instantly wherever they are and respond. It's almost like owning a smartphone has become a prerequisite to join the new American society.

So we bought smartphones.

Even more troubling is that Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana are being played on my local classic rock station.

And this might shock you: I saw a poster for the latest Now That's What I Call Music. It was number 47. Number one was released in 1998 and included The Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls and Hanson.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Defiant Little Thing...

Little Norah Grace is 19 months old, going on 15 years. From what I've heard, this is normal for a budding toddler; they have this new sense of willfulness, along with likes and dislikes, but have a hard time expressing it. Thus, frustration and tantrums. I get it.

But, man, she's a defiant little thing.

She's been working on the death glare. This one's just warming up.
 And she loves pushing boundaries.

For example, I'll tell her to get off the stairs and she will. Then, she'll look directly at me and slowly put one foot on the bottom step.

You little bugger.

A few days ago she found herself some house keys and thought it would be fun to poke Bella the dog in the ribs with them. I told her not to, of course, so she looked straight in my eye and dangled the keys above Bella and slowly lowered them towards her fur.

Like I said.

My precious girl is a defiant little thing.

Yes, believe it or not, this little girl can have a bit of a temper.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Language of Her Own

Norah Grace and her beautiful mommy (and the long gray nose of Shiloh the horse)
She points her finger toward the field, looks that way and back again at us.


Norah Grace says it quickly--not long and drawn out like you say when you see something beautiful but rather fast, like a sneeze.

We look where she's pointing, already knowing what we'd find

"You want to see the horse?"

One emphatic nod answers the question and off we go.

Norah saying hi to one of the horses with her Papaw.

So how did Norah, after hearing the word "horse" a thousand times or more, come up with "ooh!" to represent the big, four legged creatures walking through the fields?

I have no idea.

It's pretty common (so I understand) for toddlers to come up with a way of speaking that only family ends up able to comprehend. I'm starting to see this and can now compile the Norah Grace translation guide thus far:

ooh! = horse
dee-dee = chicken
ga = cat
abbey = just about any dog
wah = anything that starts with w (namely walk and wet and wagon), along with playground. Playground=W?
buh = this can mean drink or outside. Where did this come from? Your guess is as good as mine.
bee = fishies (as in goldfish)
gee = geese

And, of course, there's the German. No matter how many times we say "thank you," she still says "danke." When we say "finished?" she says "alle." A few days ago I told her to get her shoes and she walked to where all the shoes are, pointed to hers and said "die?" This is actually pronounced dee and is a plural pronoun in German. Basically, from my understanding, she was saying "these?"

We'll see what she comes up with next.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Natural Play in the Suburbs, Part I

Believe it or not, playing outside isn't just fun for kids and relief time for parents. The fields we ran through, the trees we climbed, the streams we played in--they all helped out our development in essential ways without our realization. Kids that enjoy unstructured/semi structured natural play outside on a regular basis can focus better in school, are more creative, have better balance, and are more physically fit than their video game playing, tv watching counterparts. Don't just take my word for it, read The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. It's a great book that will change the way you approach working with children and even raise your own kids.

Children need that natural play, even if they're either too young to go running on their own through the forest or simply don't have a forest near them to go running through. Once I found out I would be moving into a subdivision (suburbs) I started planning how Norah could get that natural play without leaving our yard. Here's the first of (hopefully) quite a few play elements to come over the next few years.

This is something to help Norah Grace out on the balance, strength and focus categories. How to do this: find a longish, straight log and cut it into varying lengths (or find yourself a willing father-in-law with a chainsaw to help you out). Keep the cuts straight and the pieces short enough that you don't have to worry too much about them falling over. 

The log sections are close enough so Norah can step from one to the other. She isn't quite ready to do it on her own, so
I hold her hand while she walks on the log sections.
Once you you've gathered a small collection of log sections find a clear, level area to arrange them in. Make sure they don't wobble and send the little ones in for some fun. Once we're into our new house I'm thinking I might lay out some sand and bury the bases of the logs so they're extra steady and Norah will have a safer place to land if/when she falls.

Just watch a little kid while they play outside--there's more going on than meets the eye. In this picture, Norah is learning
 about nature by examining a mushroom growing on the log, working on her balance by standing on this small area, and
 is building leg strength by squatting and standing and keeping balanced. It gets better! Just think of all the ways
playing outside is benefiting her different senses. 
Something I should mention: if done right, childhood carries with it a certain amount of risk. It is up to our judgement as parents and childcare/education professionals to decide how much risk the child is ready for. On my blog I'll be sharing projects I've created for my own daughter and take responsibility for her safety. It would be great if others took my ideas and made them their own, but in doing so you are assuming responsibility for the safety of the kids who use it. 

Have fun!