Loose Parts Basics
Though architect Simon Nicholson developed the “Theory of Loose Parts” over 40 years ago in 1972, the theory and movement has recently gained new momentum as parents and educators return to natural materials and environments to support children’s learning and creativity.
For young children, loose parts are simply materials that can be moved, arranged, manipulated, stacked, carried or combined in multiple ways. Loose parts are the most effective tool for providing open-ended play opportunities where children do not use any specific set of directions or instructions for how to interact with the materials that are available. Explaining the basis of his theory, Nicholson stated, “Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.”
Both synthetic and natural materials can be included in a loose parts collection, though the bulk of what you will typically find in a loose parts center should tend toward natural materials. Here is a list of some ideas for parts to include in an outdoor loose parts learning environment:
Stones and pebbles
Sticks and logs
Twine or rope
Opportunities for Learning and Development
One thing that many commercial toys lack is the opportunity for children to look at the toy as anything but what it’s been molded and marketed as. A battery operated toy microphone, for instance, is difficult to imagine as anything else; especially when the microphone is made of plastic, plays loud sounds and has been so specifically constructed. Loose parts, on the other hand, allow children to look at an object not as what it literally is, but as something that could be nearly anything that the child can imagine.
Open-ended play and loose parts not only encourage creative thinking; but also the development of sensory awareness and the opportunity for children to discover and master their environments. The autonomy that children gain through loose parts construction and exploration will support the child in building mental flexibility and adaptability as the child uses increasingly complex problem solving skills over time.
What’s most remarkable about loose parts play is that it supports learning in every single learning domain; language and literacy, science, math, art, music and physical fitness. An outdoor classroom with loose parts will:
Provide children with exposure to a broader range of vocabulary
provoke the child to construct higher order inquisitions about scientific processes and concepts; like life cycles, weather patterns and nature’s interdependent structure
challenge the child to use new strategies for accomplishing physical and mental tasks independently
Encourage gross motor development through ‘heavy work;’ pushing, pulling, lifting and rolling
Where to Start
Once caregivers and educators have decided to provide loose parts play opportunities, there may be some wonder about how to choose materials and whether the children will even be interested in the ‘new toys’ that have been offered.
Gathering materials must be done thoughtfully to ensure that there are a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and materials available. Quantities of each material should reflect the number of children that will be using the loose parts, and each different category of material should have its own space or storage so that all of the materials are organized, visually appealing and accessible to the children who will use them. A disheveled pile of sticks and rocks is very difficult to imagine as construction material; a basket of stones and crate of sticks, however, are much more likely to be selected by children who want to build a fort.
Outdoor learning specialist and loose parts advocate, Patty Born Selly, encourages parents and teachers to also be patient, and remember that “Chances are, these children have become accustomed to electronic toys or action figures.” If children seem confused about how to use the loose parts that are now being offered, or do not have an automatic attraction to the materials; parents and educators can serve as guides for the child as they become familiar with the new loose parts by using prompting questions (“What does the shape of this rock remind you of?”) or by modeling how to use the loose parts themselves. Once children see how one can build a town or racetrack from sticks and differently sized stones, the students will ask questions and engage because the teacher’s behavior alone is welcoming the children to explore. Soon, the instructor’s town is a distant memory as the children have become confident with their new materials and are now constructing a playground for the ants they’ve found nearby.
By Peter Blank
Lorrel Esterbrook, Mentor Coach for Family Engagement at Clayton Early Learning, has years of experience working with various center and family based programs. In addition to overseeing the Play and Learn programs here at Clayton, she has a wealth of knowledge about the HIPPY program (read more about HIPPY here). She recently transformed this wealth of knowledge into a published story book rooted in the HIPPY curriculum, "What I Saw". I asked Lorrel about her experience in family engagement, her wonderful book, and life as a published author. The following is an edited version of our conversation.
PB: What drew you to a career in ECE and specifically home and family based instruction?
LE: While I was in college I started working for a community center in Denver’s Five Points/Curtis Park neighborhoods teaching art classes and job readiness skills to adolescents that were either already gang affiliated or at risk for drugs, violence, and gang affiliation. While doing that work the importance of family engagement became even more apparent to me. I also saw the critical role that programs like Head Start played in fostering parent engagement. Eventually I started working with a Head Start program and then I started working with a school based early childhood and family engagement program. That’s when I was introduced to home visiting. I was fortunate to work with a small but passionate team that was conducting home visits in three different languages to immigrant and refugee families from around the world. The families we served taught me about a wide range of wonderful family and parenting practices. Parents would sometimes ask me for “the right way” to parent their child. That broke my heart because it implied that they were in some way doing something wrong. My goal became honoring their cultural style of parenting while giving them a buffet of options they could try out as they learned the culture of their new home.
PB: When did you first get involved with the HIPPY program?
LE: As happens in our field, the grant for the ECE and parent engagement program I was working with ended. I stumbled upon a position as a HIPPY Coordinator for a county Head Start program. I knew HIPPY by name, but little else. Within a few days of accepting the position I was in Little Rock, Arkansas attending the HIPPY pre-service training for coordinators. By the end of the week I was hooked! HIPPY is rooted in some of my core beliefs. All parents want good things for their children. HIPPY strives to honor the parenting tools that families have already, and introduces them to new strategies to help their child learn and grow.
PB: You were a HIPPY coordinator for ten years and work as a National Trainer for HIPPY USA. How did you become involved with the program as an author?
LE: A few years ago the HIPPY curriculum underwent a major rewrite. That revision was led by a team from Clayton Early Learning including Michelle Mackin-Brown and Jan Hommes. My decision to apply for a position at Clayton was influenced in part by the positive experience I had working with this curriculum development team. Several HIPPY sites were selected to pilot the new curriculum and the site I was working with was one of those. In that capacity I had an opportunity to provide feedback to the curriculum revision team and helped rewrite the coordinators manual for the model. I attended a curriculum meeting at the HIPPY USA 2014 Leadership Conference in Washington DC. During that meeting there was discussion about updating the story books for the curriculum. We were asked for our thoughts on what was needed for a new story and I had a lot to say and a lot of ideas. A few weeks later I got a call from HIPPY USA asking me if I would like to try putting all of my ideas into book form. I was thrilled with the idea and jumped right on the opportunity.
PB: What inspired you to write “What I Saw”?
LE: “What I Saw” is about a kindergartner named Tasha who is nervous about talking in front of the class during show and tell. The teacher Mrs. Hart has asked all of the children to bring pictures of animals they have seen. Mrs. Hart provides encouragement and opportunities for the children to expand their language and learning around animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Mrs. Hart accepts each child where they are at, while giving them opportunities for growth. This leads Tasha to feel more comfortable talking.
I’m a huge animal and nature lover. When I was a kid I loved books about animals. I felt this was an opportunity to introduce some big vocabulary and science to preschool age children. I tried to pick a wide range of animals so that every child reading the book could identify with seeing at least one of those animals. But I also wanted to provide opportunities for children to be introduced to animals they might not have seen. I specifically chose the North American Wood Duck as one of the birds in the story. This type of duck was hugely important to me as a child and was considered endangered during the 1970’s. My family worked with and supported these ducks on our property as part of a species conservation plan. Because of the program my family participated in you can now see North American Wood Ducks living all over the country including Denver’s City Park.
All of the children in “What I Saw” are named and modeled after children in my own family and family friends. The teacher in the story is one of my HIPPY Mentors, Gayle Hart. Illustrator Debbie Clark, did an amazing job of portraying all of the characters. I wanted all of the children in my life to be able to look at the book and see a child that they could identify with on some level. Maybe they identify with a child because of the way they look, or they might identify with a personality trait, or the structure of the family.
PB: Why is it important that children have access to literature like this?
LE: There are three main points that stick out for me: First of all “What I Saw” is designed to prompt parents to talk with their children about the book. To ask children open ended questions. It models questions that parents can ask, it shows possible responses and how parents can build on their child’s response. Secondly it gives children an opportunity to learn some new big vocabulary in a very age appropriate manner. I love hearing children tell their parents “That’s a dog, it’s a mammal because it has fur”. Lastly, but maybe most important, I think it’s important for children to see themselves in the stories they read. As I said before, all of the children and the teacher are modeled on real people, people I love, respect and care about. Some of those individuals had expressed that they didn’t see people like them in children’s stories. I wanted to change that. I wanted those individuals to know how important they are and their unique qualities are to me.
PB: What advice would you give other education professionals who are interested in becoming authors?
LE: Have someone who can give you good honest and constructive feedback. Writing taps into your emotions. I put a lot of heart and soul into this story. Getting constructive criticism could have been a painful experience, but it wasn’t because the person in charge of filtering the feedback back to me took the time to honor and respect my feelings on my work. For every hour you spend writing you will probably spend ten hours thinking, researching, and problem solving. I think that might have been the biggest surprise to me. Children need to hear stories told from many perspectives and many voices. Add your unique voice and perspective to the world of children’s literature. Write about who and what you love.
PB: You are attending the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference next month. What is the focus of this conference? What is your role at this conference?
LE: The conference is held every other year and is an opportunity for HIPPY coordinators and staff to meet, engage in professional development and learn about new developments with the HIPPY model and curriculum. This year there will be a book signing event where some of the HIPPY authors and illustrators will be signing books for the conference participants. I will be co-presenting a workshop called “HIPPY Hacks”. We will be presenting and crowd sourcing ideas on how to save time, money, and sanity while running a HIPPY program.
You can find more information on the upcoming HIPPY Leadership Conference by following the link.
By now you almost certainly have seen plenty of commercials for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, heard the Star Wars theme song, read the latest updates about the movie stars, and probably went to a screening of the movie, maybe even a couple times! One way or another you will be touched by the Star Wars phenomena, and I’m no exception This pop culture trend sparked an interest in me to find a connection between Star Wars and my day to day work. No, I’m not a Jedi, nor can I fly an X-wing, but I am an early childhood professional specializing in infancy. So how do I connect my work with infants and Star Wars?
Infancy begins when a child comes out of the womb to when we celebrate their first year of life. Infancy, to me, is the proof of humanity, its existence. Infants never give up -- never! No matter how hard the challenge is to over-come, they never give up and strive to succeed at every task. Reflecting on the Star Wars universe, there are many instances where the various Jedi heroes struggle, just like our infants. As they develop from young Jedi trainees to Jedi masters, there are scenes where they crawl, hide, walk, run, and climb. This is what my students do as they learn to walk! First, they lay on their backs wondering what may come into their view. Then, they attempt to move from one side to another until they succeed to get on their tummies. Eventually being on their tummy is boring and they discover movement. Rocking back and forth, the crawl comes soon after. The final stage is the walk. When infants walk they soon run and then we officially welcome toddler-hood. Just like the Jedi in training in Star Wars, the infants in my classroom need a teacher to help overcome these obstacles, to encourage them to keep pushing past challenges. I may not be an Obi Wan Kenobi, but my encouragement and helpful nudges along the way allow for the young infants to learn and move from stage to stage.
Once a Jedi finishes their training, the real work begins. They begin to use the force and put their training to test in a world balanced between light and dark. A few weeks ago, one of my infants discovered a shadow cast by my co-worker. She carefully watched the shadow, eventually tried to touch it and noticed its disappearance. Other students joined and explored the shadow, comparing its shape to their personal shadows. The internal discovery of light and dark was taking shape in their young minds. Every move they made, they checked in with their teachers to ensure it was safe to proceed. Eventually we added items which caused a reflection in the darker room. Most of the children followed the movement of the reflection and every once in a while attempted to look to where it came from. The infants attempted to find out where the reflections came from, an effort to make sense of both light and dark.
On the path to succeed at each step, infants rely on their teachers who ensure trust, challenge their capabilities and provide a sense of love which tells them they can do it. Once confident in their “training” they put it to use, discovering and making sense of the wide world around us. Maybe I am a Jedi master after all!
Lydia McKinney is an Infant/Toddler Supervisor at Clayton Early Learning in Far North East Denver and has been in the early childhood field over 10 years, most of which with infants and toddlers. Her academic experience covers a wide range of early childhood knowledge: a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and Public Policy, as well as a Master’s in Education in Global Studies in Education. As an immigrant to the U.S., she hopes to provide a diverse opinion, with various viewpoints, of an infant/toddler teacher’s classroom perspective.
By Peter Blank
Clayton Early Learning has been working to increase early literacy skills with the help of the innovative Ready to Read (RTR) project since 2012. As the project moves into its fourth year let’s take a closer look at the various levels and true depth and reach of RTR.
Clayton received a grant to implement the Ready to Read project, in collaboration with our partner organization Mile High Montessori Early Learning Centers (MHM), from Mile High United Way. The goal of RTR is to foster early literacy skills through interventions, focusing on oral language and vocabulary, in children birth to three. RTR encompasses two different evaluation studies, one in center based care the other in informal care, in an effort to achieve this goal across various care settings. A variety of tools and unique curricula, including Dialogic Reading and Cradling Literacy, are being used to nurture these literacy skills in participating families and children.
Center Based Study
The RTR center-based evaluation study takes place at Educare Denver at Clayton Early Learning and four MHM early learning centers across Denver. Within these centers all participating classrooms are trained in and implement Dialogic Reading. According to Shelly Anderson, Project Manager of RTR, Dialogic Reading is an interactive approach to literacy “where the child becomes the storyteller and the adult takes on the role of active listener, following the child’s lead”. By using picture books and letting the child direct the story, it focuses on developing oral language skills as well as a passion for storytelling and books. Dialogic Reading is designed for children birth to five, so even infants and toddlers can begin developing literacy skills at their young age.
In addition to Dialogic Reading, some center-based classrooms are supplemented by the Cradling Literacy curriculum. This additional intervention is an evidence based professional development curriculum for teachers. Developed by Zero to Three, it includes 12 two hour training sessions that cover various topics of literacy development such as the benefits of storytelling and working with families to foster emergent literacy skills.
Play and Learn Study
RTR isn’t just helping children in center-based programs develop early literacy skills. Five Play and Learn groups are also participating in the project. (For more information on Play and Learn, check out this blog.) Parents and caregivers at these Play and Learn sites also receive Dialogic Reading training and work on developing this practice during group sessions and at home. Additionally, some Play and Learn families receive coaching and feedback on their language interactions with children via LENA recording devices. LENA devices are like a pedometer for words, capturing language interactions including child vocalizations, adult word count, conversational terms, and the audio environment like TV and radio. Understanding just how much and what kind of language children hear day to day is integral for emergent literacy and language development.
With a multitude of approaches and evidence based tools, the Ready to Read project has been truly innovative in its approach to early literacy. It will be exciting to continue reviewing the results for the remainder of the project, which ends in the fall of 2017.
For more information on Ready to Read, contact Shelly Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristie Denlinger and Peter Blank
Data Utilization at Clayton Early Learning
While Clayton schools are supporting children and families build strong foundations through high quality care and early education, support services and community programs, the Institute at Clayton Early Learning is conducting research that extends far beyond the walls of our two schools.
The Institute conducts studies and gathers data to help prepare our students for kindergarten, ensure that our program’s needs are being met, and advocate for children at the local, state, and federal policy level.
What do you mean by data?
Children at Clayton participate in several developmentally appropriate assessments throughout the year to help us understand what specific knowledge our children have gained and how they’re learning in comparison to other children of the same age.
Since we are working with very young children, these assessments looks more like games that are fun and engaging; allowing children to demonstrate knowledge and competence through play. For example, an assessment might test for the skill of prepositions (in, on, under, etc.) by presenting a student with a series of variety of toys, then asking the child to “put the spoon in the cup.”
We obtain teacher data in the form of surveys, observations, and TS Gold reports. Teachers and staff at Clayton fill out several surveys throughout the school year that provide valuable information about the culture of our classrooms and programs, such as how teachers spend their time, how they interact with parents, how they use data, etc. Teachers are also observed in their classrooms interacting with children several times a year using a standardized observational tool. After the observations, the tools are used for professional development to help teachers improve their practices and to ensure all students are having their individual academic needs met. Finally, TS Gold is the state approved assessment system we use here at Clayton where teachers can input data that demonstrates children’s competencies in areas like socio-emotional development, language development, and math skills.
Parents at Clayton are given an annual survey that gives us valuable information about the families that we serve. Questions on the survey center around family events and situations such as the family moving, housing and food insecurity, activities that the parents do with the child, and the parents’ experience at Clayton.
How is data used?
Our child assessment data is shared with teachers with parental consent twice a year and is used to help tailor instruction to the needs of each child. For example, if a teacher is concerned about whether a child’s language comprehension skills are developing at an appropriate pace because the child is not responding to instructions, the teacher may not know if this is a behavioral issue or if the child just doesn’t understand what the teacher is saying. If the child receives a developmentally appropriate language assessment, we can compare their comprehension skills to those of other children of the same age.
In addition to this common measure, we can also identify the specific skills that the child can or cannot yet demonstrate, such as knowledge of prepositions (on, in under, etc.). From there, the teacher not only has an objective understanding of the child’s skills but they can also adjust their practices with the child based on the skills they know, such as using more gestures with their instructions to the child in order to foster their language development.
Child assessments allow us to ensure that children aren’t slipping through the cracks or getting bored. Using data driven evidence, we can make sure that each individual child is getting the academic supports they need and that our teachers can use their resources to the child’s best advantage.
We are able to evaluate and improve our program using the data we collect in a variety of ways, including using child and teacher data to help us evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in our curriculum and using parent and teacher surveys to evaluate the culture of the school and the biggest needs of our families.
For example, a few years ago a large group of our families reported varying degrees of food insecurity. This gave us the objective data to support our Food for Families program, which has expanded and works to provide our families with fresh produce and access to our own food pantry.
Clayton Early Learning is a part of the Educare Learning Network, a national network of early learning centers aimed at providing the highest quality comprehensive care to low income families. This network, led by the Ounce of Prevention Fund and the Buffet Early Childhood Fund, gives Clayton access to valuable resources, research, and peer learning from similar partner programs across the county. As a member of this network, we report our own data and participate in longitudinal studies to show the effectiveness of quality early education for our children and families. This data can also be a powerful tool for local, state, and federal policy advocacy, as well as helpful in applying for grants for future research.
We are always pursuing new projects and looking to use our data in a variety of ways to advance quality early childhood education and development. For more information about Clayton Early Learning and the Educare Network, use the site links listed below and be sure to subscribe to this blog where we will provide readers with an insider’s look at various aspects of data use at Clayton!
As Clayton celebrates National Nutrition Month this March and all the ways we promote healthy lifestyles to our children and families on a daily basis, we also seek to acknowledge the challenges many people living in Denver face with having the resources for appropriate foods for a nutritious diet., Professionals define food insecurity as a social and economic condition that stems from “the lack of consistent access to adequate food” (Coleman-Jensen, McFall, & Nord, 2013). The Department of Agriculture states that this varies from hunger, a physiological condition, but can exacerbate into hunger if prolonged (Coleman-Jensen, McFall, & Nord, 2013).
Hunger Close to Home
In 2011, 17.9 million families in the United States reported food insecurity at some point during the year. This issue rings true right here in our neighborhoods surrounding Clayton Early Learning. Research conducted at Clayton this past fall identified that across our school based and Head Start Home Based programs, 38.6% of families worried about food running out. Food ran out completely for 18.7% of families at some point during the year.
Food insecurity can disturb children’s learning. Hunger affects children’s biopsychosocial development and impairs a child’s ability to pay attention and retain information learned in the classroom. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that even “short episodes” of food insecurity can cause serious long-term damage to child development across cognitive, behavioral, emotional and physical spectrums (Raphel, 2014).
- Clayton Staff Working to Combat Hunger in the Community
The Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee has a twofold mission to act as a catalyst in building the capacity of families to prevent food insecurity through:
- Providing emergency access to nutritious food for all families and staff
- Educating families about food and nutrition in three main areas:
- Food budgeting
- Meal planning
- Cooking skills
Throughout the year, the committee maintains the Food Pantry— an emergency resource for families and staff in need of support. During the summer months, we maintain and harvest gardens to provide fresh produce at no cost. We have collaborated with Denver Urban Gardens to offer two Youth Farmers’ Markets in the past year and strive to hold more this year! The Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee hopes to reduce food insecurity within our community. When our children have access to consistent and nutritious food, we can ensure that they have the brain nourishment needed to focus, grow, and succeed in school and life.
If you have any questions about the Fresh Produce/Food Pantry Committee or would like to get involved please contact
Coleman-Jensen, A., McFall, W., & Nord, M., (2013). Food Insecurity in Households with Children: Prevalence, Severity, and Household Characteristics, 2010-11. United States Department of Agriculture. Economic Research Service, Economic Information Bulletin 113.
Raphel, S. (2014). Eye on Washington: Children, Hunger, and Poverty. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 27, 45-47.
Clayton’s Health and Disabilities Specialist, Kristin Wilford-Adams, welcomes our readers to celebrate National Nutrition Month by ‘eating a rainbow’:
March is National Nutrition Month and the Clayton Community is celebrating by “Biting into a Healthy Lifestyle”. Clayton staff and families want to encourage everyone to enjoy all the wonderful colors, textures, and flavors that eating nutritious and delicious whole foods provides. So let’s all challenge ourselves not only this month but every month to eat as many bright and colorful fruits and vegetable as possible…let’s try and Eat the Rainbow!
Have you ever asked yourself why there are so many songs about rainbows? Because they're amazing and beautiful—not just in the sky, but also on the dining table! "Eating a rainbow" helps your body get a complete range of nutrients and can also make mealtime more enjoyable for even the pickiest of eaters. Wondering what it means to “eat a rainbow” or not sure how to do this at home? Here are some easy steps and reminders to help make every plate as colorful as possible:
- When meal planning and grocery shopping, try to choose a variety of different colored whole foods to eat throughout the day and week. The most colorful fruits and vegetables are also the most nutrient dense! Looking for an easy, colorful and nutritious snack? Try carrots, broccoli, or red bell peppers with hummus or Greek yogurt dressing. Yum!
- The more naturally occurring colors on your plate at each meal or snack, the better. Creative use of color on your plate can turn revive your interest in traditional foods. Try reviving your old salad recipe by adding ingredients like strawberries or substitute iceberg lettuce for a more flavorful and nourishing green like arugula or romaine lettuce.
- Remember artificial colors and dyes found in many processed foods are not a healthful way to incorporate color onto your plate. These foods are mostly comprised of empty calories and have very little nutritional value. Steer clear of candy, juice, soda and fruit flavored snacks so that you can enjoy the natural flavors, vitamins and minerals that whole fruits and vegetables have to offer.
Eating the Rainbow and Biting into a Healthy Lifestyle can give us infinite amounts of energy, keep our bodies healthy, and our minds happy. Here’s to the most wonderful time of the year…NATIONAL NUTRITION MONTH!
We want to know what your favorite ‘rainbow recipes’ are! Tell us how you and your family ‘eat the rainbow’ at home in the comments below.
Are you interested in supporting young children's language and literacy development, but you're not quite sure where to start? We're kicking off 'I Love to Read Month' by sharing four easy ways to transform everyday experiences and routines into opportunities for young children to enhance their vocabularies, strengthen children's early phonemic awareness and a develop a life-long love of reading.
1. Conversations with Kids
Learning how to have a conversation is a lot of work for young children. Even after little ones have developed a larger vocabulary to help them communicate their needs or ideas, children may struggle with grasping the ‘conversational rules’ that adults take for granted; like turn-taking and maintaining eye contact with the person that you’re talking to.
When parents are talking to babies, try modeling conversational rules by pausing after posing a question to the infant. Even though the baby may not respond at first, infants will begin participating in conversation with caregivers by cooing back when the adult pauses between questions or comments to the baby.
If an older toddler or preschool-aged child isn’t engaging with adult attempts to converse, environmental factors may be the issue. Try asking questions or making comments and observations when there are fewer distractions, like toys, TV or music. Not sure where to start? When the radio is turned down or turned off, car rides are a great time to capture a child’s attention, model rules of conversation and promote vocabulary development all at once!
2. Point Out Print
Whether at home, in transit, at the grocery store or the playground, there are written words everywhere that adults can point out for young children. By reading aloud the messages on street signs, store windows and billboards, adults are supporting children’s familiarity with commonly reoccurring words and early grasp of phonics.
When pointing out the words and reading them aloud, adults can emphasize letter sounds, which will encourage infants and toddlers to try making that sound while also supporting preschoolers in developing letter-sound recognition.
3. Story Time
Most adults are aware that reading to preschool-aged children is a great way to support a child’s journey to becoming an independent reader. What isn’t as widely known is that infants and toddlers stand to benefit just as much from this activity! Infants and toddlers develop vocabulary more easily when they are frequently read to, even if the youngster isn’t developmentally ready to follow the storyline. In fact, rather than reading text to infants and young toddlers, adults can use comments and questions about the pictures on each page to promote vocabulary and early phonemic development. Technically referred to as ‘Dialogic Reading,’ this strategy not only enhances the child and caregiver relationship, but produces research-proven outcomes for early learners. To read more about dialogic reading for young children, use this link to one of our previous blog posts about Dialogic Reading: http://www.claytonearlylearning.org/blog/?p=943
4. Set the Example
Think that only a professionally trained teacher can support early literacy and language development for young children? Think again! Parents and primary caregivers are the most important and influential teacher that a child will ever have. As early as infancy, children are keen observers of adult behaviors and will try to imitate the behaviors that are modeled for them by the important adults in their lives. Later, as children continue to develop cognitively and emotionally, even their personal beliefs and priorities are influenced by adult family members.
The good news is that the easiest way to help a child become an avid reader is for adults to simply show children how to enjoy reading! A child will more easily develop an interest in reading and an appreciation for books when the child observes their primary caregiver engaging in reading activities and hears the adult discussing books. Further, when adults prioritize daily reading with children, the youngster develops a value for literacy and learning, in general; a value that follows the youngest students as they become life-long learners.
Do these tips sound easy to implement or do you have additional strategies to share with parents and caregivers? We want to hear your ideas for promoting early language and literacy development as well as any challenges that you’ve encountered as a parent or teacher who is supporting language and literacy with young children. Please share your experiences below!
Looking for a great toy for infants and toddlers under the age of 3? Look no further than what you have at home!
With so many new products being introduced to families and children through TV, radio, internet and print, it’s no wonder why parents and caregivers struggle with selecting toys to give to their children. It wasn’t until my second child was born (and I had a few years of teaching under my belt) before I discovered a ton of great toys that are not only educational and fun, but can be made from supplies that I (usually) have just laying around the house!
What They Are
Take the blocks that you probably already have at home and give them a personal touch by adding pictures of friends, family or objects to the flat sides of the block. Babies and toddlers will love seeing the familiar images as they manipulate, stack and sort the blocks! Adults and older children can use the blocks to encourage language in younger infants (“What’s on this block? What do you see? It’s a dog! What does a dog say?”), while older toddlers can begin matching blocks that ‘belong’ together by pairing or sorting the blocks that have family members on them, or by finding all of the blocks that have pictures of animals, etc.
How to Make your Own
If you don’t want to use photos for your blocks, this is a great way to make use of your old magazines and newspapers. After you’ve collected and cut out the images you want to place on the blocks, use clear packaging tape to cover the picture while securing it to the block. Avoid using any kind of chemical gloss or sealant, as this will become dangerous when children put the blocks in their mouths.
What They Are
Exploration, or sensory bottles, are sealed containers filled with different types of materials that allow infants and toddlers to experiment with movement and affects that appeal to our senses by providing a mess-free way for kids to experiment with different materials and textures. Early experiences with cause and effect, weight and movement are all provided by this hand-held bottle that most of us can make out of things we already have in our homes! Kids love them because they’re often filled with various art supplies and object, such as glitter and marbles. Though commonly thought of by teachers as a science or self-regulation toy, sensory bottles are fun because children can use them in a variety of ways. Try picking filler materials that will have a different effect when added to the bottle. For instance, one bottle might have water and glitter in it, while another has corn syrup and marbles. Babies will be amazed as they see the glitter flowing quickly through the water in one bottle, while the marbles move s-u-p-e-r s-l-o-w-l-y through the other! Adults and older children can use this as an opportunity to talk to babies and toddlers about things like color, shape as well as early concepts of opposites, texture and counting.
How to Make your Own
Empty plastic water bottles are probably the easiest thing to use when you’re just getting started with this fun project. Once you’ve selected your clear containers to fill, you can begin choosing various materials to fill the bottle. Be creative and try to make a bottle that will appeal to each of your baby’s senses! A bottle with dried beans will make a great noise when baby shakes it, while a bottle with water in it will be heavier and often cool to the touch. Once you’ve filled the bottles, seal them by super-gluing the lid onto the container. Be careful not to use too much glue so that babies can mouth the bottle without risk of oral contact with the adhesive. Once the cap is secured on to the bottle and the glue has dried thoroughly, your baby will have a great new toy that’s as developmentally stimulating as it is fun!
Baby’s First Wallet
What It Is
Have you ever noticed that babies and toddlers are intrigued by the everyday accessories that belong to adults and older children? Infants and toddlers love to pull picture cards and identification out of wallets almost as much as they delight in finding a few pennies in a coin purse! Parents can keep their things safe while giving baby an interesting and challenging way to develop their fine motor skills by putting together a wallet that is just for their little one!
How to Make your Own
Find an old or unused wallet and begin filling it with things that are safe for and interesting to your infant or toddler. Old gift cards or grocery store club cards are perfect for filling the small pockets of a wallet, while larger laminated pictures make a fun alternative for the bill-fold section of the wallet. As the child gets older, the wallet may not be as challenging to manipulate as it once was, but kids will still enjoy using it for dramatic play and to mimic the ‘grown-up’ behaviors that they observe when watching you at the grocery store, library, etc.
As with selecting any toy for your young child, avoid small items that may become choking hazards as well as any materials that are considered toxic or harmful if ingested.
Have you ever experimented with making your own toys for young children? Please share your stories and ideas in the comments section!
Earlier this month, after a string of cold ‘inside’ days, I sat back at the end of the day and watched my four year old daughter fidget her way onto the couch, off of the couch, onto the chair, to the floor and back onto the couch. She then repeated this little course about six times in the span of five minutes. As I watched her wiggle around, I fought the urge to tell her, “Just calm down and sit still for one minute!” I’ve gone that route before, and as you probably know, it almost never works.
To a parent or teacher of young children, the cold days of winter and early spring can be long and challenging. Without the ability to get outside and burn some energy, young kids can get jittery and distracted, sensitive, hyper, and unfocused. If we aren’t careful, this kind of behavior can make us grown-ups impatient and frustrated as well. So, what can we do to get through the coldest months of the year without driving ourselves or our children nuts? Well, I can tell you that there is no magical, one-step fix; meeting a young child’s mental, physical, emotional, and social needs requires a vast tool-kit. However, there is one activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, that can also help to release pent-up energy and stress, as well as increase our health and general well-being: Try yoga!
Games and activities based in the ancient practice of yoga are showing up in classrooms, gymnasiums, living rooms and locker rooms all over our country in recent years, with remarkable results for the children who practice them. Simple yoga poses increase physical strength, flexibility, and balance, and other yoga techniques like deep breathing and positive imagery can help to relieve feelings of restlessness, frustration, anxiety, and imbalance not just in children, but in their parents and caretakers too.
Yoga is good for Kids!
Children need to move their bodies. When they can’t get outside and run around, they will find a way to move - wandering, fidgeting, squirming, or rough-housing. Yoga offers a structured way for kids to burn off some energy as well as to focus their attention on a motor activity. The postures of yoga are almost all based in nature, and children can easily achieve the ‘shape’ of a tree, an ape, a snake, or a cat, which in turn helps to improve their confidence, balance, and coordination. Children not only have fun playing games based on yoga poses but also enjoy taking on the challenge of trying new things!
Another huge benefit that yoga offers is reduction in stress and anxiety. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, children feel stress. Demanding schedules, over-exposure to media, pressure to make friends and feel successful at school are all things that contribute to high stress levels among our nation’s children, and they need tools with which to manage it. Creative movement gives children an outlet through which they can express confusing or complex feelings such as anxiety. Deep breathing, a cornerstone of the practice of yoga, helps to strengthen the body’s immune, regulatory, and nervous systems, which helps to calm the body and the mind. When kids feel less stress, they enjoy a more relaxed state of being, increased focus and concentration, better body awareness, and an overall boost in self –esteem.
Another aspect still of the practice is visualization. Children naturally have an active and robust imagination. By gently guiding their thoughts using peaceful and positive imagery, we can help to promote further relaxation and ease among our kids. This kind of activity supports children in self-regulation, meaning they become better at managing their own behavior and emotions. Helping children to access a ‘happy place’ within their imagination can help them deal more effectively with their real-life problems.
Yoga is good for Adults!
Adults enjoy and benefit from yoga for many of the same reasons children do – stress-relief, increased ability to concentrate and focus, and deeper feelings of relaxation. The additional benefits which apply to adults who practice yoga, even a very simple practice, are compelling.
As we move through life from cars to desks to meeting rooms to couches, adults loose strength and muscular flexibility pretty easily. Even adults who are highly active, moving from bicycles to soccer fields to gymnasiums can discover that their bodies are stiff and inflexible though strong. The unique movements and postures of yoga address the whole body, stretching large muscle groups such as those that support the spine and low back, as well as challenging muscle groups which we don’t necessarily access in our day-to-day activities. Adults who practice yoga discover increased strength and flexibility in their bodies, and a decrease in sports-related injuries. And contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to be flexible to practice yoga!
Beyond stress-relief, adults who practice yoga can actually decrease their risks for stress related illness such as chronic headaches, hypertension, and heart disease. There is even evidence of decreased feeling of depression and fatigue among adults who practice yoga regularly. When we, as adults, can more effectively manage our stress and tension, the children around us automatically feel less stress and tension. A teacher or parent who can deal effectively with their own stress is not only a great role model for the children they interact with, but is a more patient, more emotionally available caregiver to those children.
And lastly, yoga gets us to breathe. This might sound silly in its simplicity, but it is far from silly. In our busy adult lives we spend our time thinking about bills, work, family, money, meals, childcare, planning for holidays, and more bills. We worry about putting our best foot forward upon many different avenues of life simultaneously; we wonder if we’re doing all of this as well as our friends and neighbors, we worry that we can’t possibly live up to the expectations others might have of us. Our minds can move non-stop; much in the same way we see our youngsters move their bodies non-stop when they don’t get a chance to play outside. By focusing your attention on something as simple and easy as 10 deep breaths, you will give your busy mind a ‘recess’ from the pressure and complexity it deals with every day. And you’ll feel good!
Simple Yoga Activities to Try With Your Children
• Flower Breath/Birthday Breath
-Close your eyes. Imagine it’ spring, and you’re in a huge field of flowers. Any type of flowers you’d like. Now, bend over and pick a flower. Take a long, deep inhale, smell your flower. Gently exhale. Try again, collect as many flowers as you’d like!
-With eyes still closed, let’s have an imaginary birthday party! How many candles are on your cake? Get ready to blow them out, taking a big inhale…. And like the Big Bad Wolf, blow all of your candles out! Repeat, try blowing out more candles next time! How will you blow out your birthday candles when you turn 90?
• Seed to Tree
Come to your hands and knees. Shift you seat relax back toward your heels, letting your forehead relax on or close to the floor. Arms are either extended on the floor above the crown of your head or relaxed down with wrists near your hips. Most importantly, get comfortable. Imagine you are a seed. Take a few moments to feel yourself getting heavy, sinking into the cool, moist earth.
Then, as the seed gets ‘watered’, slowly allow yourself to grow. Move like a small plant sprouting and growing, very slowly and quietly. Breathe deeply as you grow from seed to stalk to tree, from hands and knees roll the spine slowly up to standing. From a standing position, extend your branches outward and upward.Finally, take one foot off the floor and gently place it on the inner shin or ankle of your standing leg. Stand tall and breathe deep, you are a tall, majestic tree!Take turns, allowing one person to pretend to water the seed and the other person to grow into a tree.
• Legs up the Wall
Time for a challenge! Get your body into a capital letter ‘L’, with legs going straight up the wall and torso, head and shoulders lying on the floor.
Try reading a book with your kids this way! Try taking some time in this pose before bedtime or naptime, or when your back or shoulders feel tired.
Now there is nothing left for you to do but go for it! You and your kids will be glad you tried a fun new activity together!
Denver is a community that is rich in yoga resources! See Radiant Beginnings Yoga, www.radiantbeginningsyoga.com or Yoga for Young Warriors, www.yogaforyoungwarriors.com to learn more about kids’ yoga programs in our community.
For more ideas about how to integrate yoga into your home or classroom routine, check out www.yogainmyschool.com.
Yoga Journal, www.yogajournal.com has a wealth of information about yoga in general, including several resources related to kids and family yoga.
In addition, this spring, Erin Jamieson will be offering drop-in yoga sessions to the Preschool classrooms at Clayton Early Learning and at Clayton Z-Place to those teachers who are interested! A family yoga class may also be on the calendar in the spring of 2014! Stay tuned, and please, speak up if interested!