Our boys and their toys

Recently in a parent‘s consultation we were told that Leander was reluctant to take the Montessori materials off the shelves and they asked what he was interested in playing with at home. We said: “Toy cars.“ But those are not allowed in The Children‘s House. They are not part of the Montessori Concept. In fact: They had toy cars and cards accordingly so the kids could match the cars with the cards. But all the boys did was play with the cars, not the material as it was meant to be. So they took the cars away. They also took the little London bus that served as a moneybox for which they had provided little buttons in a basket to put inside the moneybox. But as you may guess – the boys only played with the bus as a bus, not a moneybox. 

A mom on twitter recently asked: “My son (2,5) has been obsessed with sea animals for months now. He can name them all and is extremely interested. Should I leave him or should I help him take interest in something else, because it has been going on for so long now. And how can I do that?“

What is our fear when we try and move the focus of our child‘s play to something else? That he could miss out on something important? And if so – what?

There is so much to learn when you are a child that we as parents often feel the need to fill our kid‘s brain with information. Constantly. And who can blame us? As soon as we become parents we ourselves are filled with information and offered all sorts of classes and groups to attend that encourage and foster all sorts of life-important areas such as music, creativity, language, science. You name it. Parent-infant classes as Emmi Pikler or Magda Gerber ( http://www.rie.org/classes/parent-infant ) offered are questioned because the children are not given any input, no songs are sung and no activities lead. What is the point if the child is not learning anything?

What we might miss out on from the very beginning is trust. Trust in our own children, that they have it all and are able and most importantly willing to learn. Maria Montessori said: “A child cannot NOT learn.“ Whatever a child does – he is learning. It‘s just not always obvious to us adults who seem to know everything but in fact quite often – seem to know nothing. This trust is taken from us during those first days, weeks and months when we start focusing on children‘s play and age appropriate toys. Every packaging of a toy has a big bubble blown up that states what this toy is encouraging. May it be “just“ creativity or even logical and scientific thinking. And it is hard not to look at it and choose just simple play objects. In the end – everyone has it. And is amazed. So there must be something to it, right? Right?

Another reason why parents are so worried their children might miss out if not being offered early learning opportunities in all sorts of ways, is our own background. If we feel we haven‘t achieved everything we quickly project those expectations on our own children. So they at least do better in writing, spelling, math, playing an instrument or whatever. And how can this be achieved other than by attending a class that offers it all?

If you have terrible childhood memories because you had a hard time understanding math you might know how that feels. The need to offer numbers, puzzles and counting games at the earliest possibility. And in the end – if it does not help it won‘t harm either, right? Well, we’re not sure. Some experts, who have been working on the concept of play, might disagree. As long as we don‘t understand play as it really is and what it really offers to our children, we might harm them in taking those important hours from them by doing something that “has a point“. Because “The importance of play is, that it has no point.“ ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/how-childrens-play-is-being-sneakily-redefined/2011/11/15/gIQAMNjdPN_blog.html )

We might not harm them directly by offering them charts with letters to be able to read at an early age. But we harm them by not leaving them enough time and room to explore on their own. To engage with something they are interested in. And maybe even learn to read, write and count in the process – who knows? But how much more fun would it be, if this whole learning was done on their terms, while playing with their beloved cars, sea animals or tea sets?

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. (Fred Rogers)

And therefore we have happily been watching our boys play with cars. But not just that. We have been trying to discover what they are actually learning by “just playing”. Because of course, just like all of the other parents out there, we are curious about what they do when they “just play”. So, is there any learning going on? Even without the special materials, and all the educational toys? We don’t know for sure, but here are some of our ideas of what might be going on. These are not based on Parten’s or Piaget’s categories, they are purely our ways of understanding what our children are doing when they… well, play

Movement – large and small

We have already talked a lot about how important movement is in development of play, and how much of movement is really play. When just playing with cars? Well, there is the pushing and pulling that can get discovered, practised, and practised again – what surfaces and slopes are better for which one? What happens when you pull the truck downhill?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there are the fine, small movements, which we probably barely even think about now that we just have them all in our toolbox – opening and closing tiny doors, and putting little people (or, in A’s case – allspice) inside, taking them out, making sure they are sitting upright and that they all fit – these are all extremely precise movements of hand and fingers. Have a look at how your child is trying to manipulate something small – it really is fascinating!

Language

Car parts. Different types of cars. Different types of vehicles in general. What they do. What kinds of people drive them? What are they wearing? What do these people do? This could go on for a long while… Here we also have a unique opportunity to join in and answer all the questions – starting with pointing and a questioning look on a face of a very young baby, up to probably much much later and all the ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

The only thing we have been very careful of is not to have an agenda. If they ask what color the car is, we try and answer ‘yellow’ – not have them guess, or try and make them remember. We believe the trust the boys put in us by asking us to tell them names of things in the world needs to be respected for what it is, rather than unnecessarily tested.

Serious science

Playing with cars has been a source of some serious scientific discoveries for our boys. These are just some of them:

  • Hypothesis: Some cars, when pushed, go faster than others. Tested for the van versus the truck. Will it also be true for other cars? Which ones?
  • Hypothesis: Some cars are much bigger/ heavier/ longer than others. Tested. True, with different answers for different combinations.
  • Hypothesis: Some cars will fit into other cars. Tested for some, true for some.
  • Hypothesis: Some cars break when thrown on the floor. Tested for one. Enough proof obtained. Not willing to test on others.

And of course there are the many categories that they have been using to organize the cars – by size, speed, length, color… These discoveries are particularly engrossing; it takes hours to figure out just the right way, and is as fascinating to watch as any Discovery channel documentary. These categories, discovered on cars, sea animals, tea sets, so early on, help all of us understand life later on without going crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Therapeutic play

A. became scared of flying, especially take off and landing, once he turned 2 and had to be in his own seat. On our return from a first trip like that, he dug out a plane tucked neatly among his many cars. He was practising taking off and landing for a couple of days. He put his plane in the air (on the windowsill), then took one of his cars (that’s right, cars!) in his hand and proceeded to explain to the car: “You are bigger now, you will have your own seat on the plane. You can hold my hand.” I watched quietly as this play continued for another few days. We were due to take another flight in a week or so. It was much better.

 

(Also have a look here: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/10/the-power-of-play-therapy-and-4-ways-to-encourage-it/)

 

Fantasy play: cars aren’t always cars, you see…

… sometimes they are potatoes, when you need to go shopping and fill your bag with them; sometimes they are chopped veggies that will taste so nice for dinner tonight; sometimes they are people, or animals. They really are what you want them to be. Just like acorns can be coffee, once you put them in a cup, or a turtle can be a table when you put a cup on top of it.

Which is why it’s ok that our boys don’t have all the toys in the world – they really only need the ones they have. If they did have all those toys, would it be half the fun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh and just maybe – social stuff?

Kind of funny, but it is also quite amazing. A. has two tractors, but only one little cart that goes on the back of the wooden tractors. I have just found out recently that the two tractors share the cart.

A. usually explains to one of the tractors that the other will now borrow the cart, but that later it will be back. Not quite what is happening on the playground yet.

 

 

So does it matter that they have been playing mostly with cars for… well, quite a while now? We’re not too worried about that, to be honest.

It doesn’t matter what you play with, but what and how you think and feel as you play. You can play intelligently with a doll […] and you can thoughtlessly read books. (Janusz Korczak)

It doesn’t matter if our boys are playing with cars, sea animals, or tea sets. What matters is how they think and feel as they play. And to let them develop in this thinking and feeling as they play, to let them discover the creative possibilities and scientific facts, we are choosing to give them the freedom to choose what they want to play with, how they want to do it, and the time and space for their explorations.

What about your children – do they have their favorite toys, or play objects? What are they? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Play at 3-6 months – Age appropriate toys

Your baby is on the move. He is crawling, rolling, looking for new possibilities and opportunities to explore. We have found this a little challenging in terms of providing the right, age-appropriate toys, that would not ruin our budgets, or limit the curiosity of our boys. Here is what seems to have worked for our little explorers.

Having spoken about swings and bouncers or activity centers and suggested to take those away in our recent post - what could you place there instead?

Maybe nothing? 

Remember that movement is play. Practicing to sit, to crawl or stand up is not just hard work. It is play after all. Nothing else is needed to help your child train those muscles or movements.

Maybe something simple?

Your child is moving around much more, this is play in itself, but there is also time when the interest in objects comes in play – right about now . You might see much more curiosity than before in reaching out and grabbing objects, checking out their different qualities, trying what can and cannot be done with them. First you may notice interest in one particular object – the simpler the object the longer time your baby is likely to spend with it. Open-ended toys, those with no purpose stimulate imagination. The toys you placed around him when he was still tiny are good for a start here!

Pick something simple and spend some time with it yourself – play! You might be surprised, but the longer time you give yourself, the more amazing and creative things you will discover about a simple wooden ring. Is it heavy or light? How does it feel in your hand? What sound does it make on the floor? What about on another object? Does it taste good? Is it pleasant to suck on it? Can you roll it? Can you thrown it? Oh look, here is another one – are they the same? Can you put them together? What if you bang them? What if you try to put one on your foot? What about the shadows it makes on the wall…….

Possibilities are endless!

A box (or laundry basket)

A very low wooden box allows children to follow their need to crawl onto or into things. The wooden box can be placed both ways around. First we would recommend to have it (in our eyes) upside down – so the baby can try and crawl onto it. Once she achieved that she will face the challenge to get back down. Therefore the box should be not too high. It can be an old drawer or an easily timbered box. Whatever you have on offer. The box can be extended with a ramp where the child can crawl up (and down). All these movements are simple play.

Later you can turn the box around so the child can crawl in. That way she can experience space and how to fit in (or not).

The box will be interesting for months. Even years. The child will then walk onto it, jump up and down. He will roll objects up and down the ramp extension if you have one (a good plank will do the job as well – safely attached). And you will be surprised what else your child comes up with when playing with, on and in the box.

The need to climb is a very strong one, and it is developmentally appropriate. It would be counter-productive to stop your child from doing it – instead try and provide something she can safely climb onto.

Other ideas we have used include:

  • Cups, bottles, baskets etc. – everything that can be stacked, things can go into it, some are bigger and some smaller. The discovery that two things are identical is an astonishing one as well – have more than one of something and see what happens in time.
  • Things that move – in our households cars have been the biggest hit for a long time. They will last forever, too.
  • Household items – no need to buy much, you can pick the safe things you have at home. This way also makes the baby feel like he really is part of the house – he gets to help with the real stuff!

„Do less. Observe more. Enjoy most.“ (Magda Gerber)

Have you learnt anything watching your baby play? What were the most exciting moments for you? What toys or play objects were among the favourites in your house?

We would love to hear you thoughts!

Nadine & Anna

Play as movement

Having looked at what helps uninterrupted play and what might hinder it we now want to look at the fun side. What DO children at the age range between 6-12 months do? What are they interested in? What keeps them busy? In this post we will talk about different movements and positions you may have observed in your child, different ways of understanding play at this stage, and age-appropriate toys or objects. Happy reading!

 

 

A child at the age of 6 months is getting mobile. You might notice he is spending much less time now lying on his back observing his fingers. Your child will roll onto his belly. And back. Suddenly the world is upside down – or as they will soon find out – the way it really is. The neck strengthens and he will keep his head up for longer and longer times. That gives him the opportunity to look around more, follow you and your movements more. But also follow moving objects, which makes him want to follow with his whole body. And this is the challenge that will keep him busy for another while. Some children start creeping, others crawling. Some won’t do this for months.

Fact is – your baby is in motion. He needs more space, a wider area to practice all those new movements.

This is what you can expect to see or have seen (as far as movement and coordination is concerned) once your baby gets to this age range:

Movement (a.k.a. milestones – there are many more than you may have expected)

  • Lying on their back

Babies can spend an enormous amount of time on their back – try it yourself, lie down, get an object (or not) and give yourself enough time to explore everything around you. You might be surprised at how much you can see. We often have the idea that babies don’t see enough when on their backs (sometimes people place cushions under their head to help them see better) – but have a look yourself, and notice that if you use your head, neck, and shoulders enough you can actually see everything you need… and maybe more! One of the bonuses of letting babies lie flat on their back for as long as they want to is the intense neck exercise they set up for themselves in that position – if you do this, no tummy time is definitely necessary to strengthen their neck.

  • Lying on the side

This position is often missed at this stage if a baby is put in tummy time (read Lisa Sunbury’s excellent article on tummy time here and Janet Lansbury’s wise words here), as they do not get the chance to move into and out of that position on their own. It will probably be learnt later, but at this stage in development, a side-lying position is excellent for practicing balance (try!) and a little later for playing with objects

  • Moving from the side to tummy and back
  • Turning from back to tummy and back

In all those turning and moving positions you will see a lot of struggle and effort. That is because it is difficult. It is a challenge. Trust that your baby is capable of doing it, and trust your instinct on when to step in and help: ‘It seems like you have had enough. I will put you back on your back’. In the Pikler home, the nurses never rolled the babies onto their backs from the tummy position – they picked them up and placed them gently on their backs. This was so as to allow the babies a chance to learn that movement by themselves.

  • Lying on their tummy

Lying on their tummy using forearms for support (head up).

Lying on their tummy with arms stretched for support (now try doing that for a longer period of time and play at the same time – wow!).

Lifting head, arms and legs up from the floor (who said babies need more exercise?).

From this position (or any variation of it) you may see your baby pulling up to a half-sitting position (supported with one arm stretched out), and later to creeping on their arms and knees.

  • Rolling
  • Crawling

What some of us have some to call ‘crawling’ Dr Emmi Pikler has termed ‘creeping’ (using hands and knees), what we will refer to as ‘crawling’ here is borrowed from Pikler’s terminology and means your baby moving forward in a lying position, using their arms to pull the body forward.

Here you can see your baby using their arms to pull, or their legs to push their body, alternating between right and left or using both at the same time.

  • Sitting

This usually comes later than crawling, creeping and all those positions we mentioned above. We are often being told that babies should be able to sit when they are 6 months old. In our experience, if a baby is not sat up they will sit by themselves between 7-10 months, but don’t take that as a guideline.

Pulling a baby up to sitting is not how he would naturally learn to sit. Most babies learn to sit from a side position (half-sitting), or by pulling up from crawling. Lie down on your back and try getting to sitting in different ways – which one is most natural to you? Which one comes with least effort.

  • Kneeling and moving on their knees
  • Pulling up to standing
  • Standing
  • Walking

There are many many transitional positions, which we have not mentioned here. But as you watch your baby grow and play with their movement, you will see the growing competence, self-confidence, and joy. Learning to play through movement is the first time they are also learning to learn.

So this is it. A few milestones. A bit of going back and forth in development. A bit of struggle in between and some relaxation here and there. That‘s not too hard is it?

Well. We are aware that this is a learning process for all of us. In all aspects. But in the end this is what your baby does most of the time in his first years on Earth. This is what really interests them. This is part of their foundation they build on which they then keep developing. So make it possible for them. Be part of the process. And gain a good chunk of it all for yourself.

What have you observed your baby do in these positions? Was there anything that surprised you? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

 

Some more reading around the subject:

‘Unfolding of infants’ natural gross motor development’ Dr Emmi Pikler and Klara Pap, RIE.

‘Pikler Bulletin’ Dr Emmi Pikler (also includes and article by Dr Judith Falk). Sensory Awareness Foundation.