Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Magic of Masking Tape

If you've ever seen me play, you know that at some point or another I will bring out masking tape.  When I travel to clients' homes, I often have masking tape with me - ready to help save the day. 

What, you may ask, am I doing with all this masking tape? 

Well, I'm using it to make roads on the ground.  This creates a wonderful visual for children to help them motor plan and sequence their ideas from one place to another.

I'm using it as a web to hold Spiderman from a skyscraper.

I'm using it to make casts on broken appendages.

I'm using it to tie closed the mouth of a ferocious beast and tie down the baddest of the bad guys.

Another great game is to wrap it around a child's feet with the sticky side out.  Then let them walk around with "sticky feet."  It's also fun to put some confetti on the ground and challenge your kids to pick it all up with their "sticky feet." 

Masking tape is also fantastic for utilitarian purposes in play - to help doors on cars that won't close, to hang up the written rules of a game or to tape on a name tag to help a child remember the role that they are playing.

Masking tape is just plain old awesome.  Your kids will come up with even more ideas, I'm sure!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Please take the time to read this article

I have very strong opinions on the importance of play, if you haven't figured that out already.  This article was found by a fellow blogger and friend, and it is just a gem.

It discusses how children today are "game players" rather than "game designers."  They can play with what is given to them, but struggle with creating something novel, thinking "outside the box" and making something out of nothing.  You can't blame this struggle on them.  After all, you have to search high and low to find toys that don't move on their own or have buttons that make them have sounds.  My favorite example of this is the dinosaur that walks and roars on his own.  What fun is playing with a dinosaur when you can't crash it into things and invent the cacophonous sounds yourself??  I think back to when my son wanted the Little Einsteins rocket for his figures.  I even had it in the cart when I thought, "If he wants a rocket, he should make one.  I made quite a few tissue box vehicles in my day.  He can do it, too."  But, it's so hard, as parents, to not give into the call of consumerism and bright, blinking, loud manufactured toys that tell us how smart they will make our children.

The article also touches on the importance of child-led unstructured play which is the cornerstone of the therapy I practice called DIR/Floortime.  Children need to lead the play and structure it for themselves to truly explore and learn from their environment.  They need play partners that say, "Yes!" not "Let's try it this way" or "Rabbits can't fly."

Perhaps my favorite section of the article is when the author discusses the heavy focus in schools on behavior and classroom management.  She says,

"...I fully appreciate the fine balance between learning and discipline that is required in any classroom. Yet I grow concerned when the daily folder my child brings home focuses on rewarding the following behaviors: walk quietly, keep hands to self, raise hand before speaking, and sit still in chair. Instead, I’d like to see a second folder promoting things like: had an original idea, created a new game on the playground, made up a story, solved a problem for a friend, or invented something uncommon from a common object."

Alas, more reasons why I have chosen to work privately instead of in a classroom.

So, please take the time to read this article and pass it along to your friends, family and your child's teachers and therapists.  It's a good one.   (Warning though... she does knock moon sand which I totally love.  It's okay, though.  Moon sand is great for indoor play in the winter or on rainy days.  You and I know that the sand box is always best when weather permits. ;) )

Here's the link:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Nothing cleans like shaving cream

I worked at an occupational therapy clinic for years and learned quite a few things about the many uses of shaving cream.  Sounds crazy, I know, but those OTs really love their shaving cream!  And they should because it can be quite entertaining when used in play.  Kids love to feel it squish in their fingers and can't resist smothering toys to only reveal them again with a squirt of water.

A shaving cream snow storm is a good idea, so is a shaving cream car wash which I show here.  Don't feel like you can only use it in the bathtub, having some towels and a tray make shaving cream play possible just about anywhere that is cleanable. 

Start by gathering your materials:
  • Shaving cream - a half-way full to a full can is best to avoid messy, watery mishaps.  I also buy the sensitive skin brand since it can be irritating to little fingers.
  • A squirt bottle - adjust the spray so that it is a wide spray versus a direct one.  A direct, hard spray could kick-up shaving cream into eyes. 
  • Brushes - Paint brushes are great, but I love these brushes from Alex.  They look a lot like the brushes at the actual car wash.

  • Towels - for obvious reasons
  • A tray - allows you to play at the kitchen table or on the floor.
  • Toys - the sky is the limit.  Cars, animals, superheroes - ask your child to find toys who would like to be washed.  This is a good time to discuss the properties of materials - what can be washed, what can't and why.
As you can see from this child's selection, Buzz Lightyear, a baby and a dinosaur joined a tractor and a bulldozer in the fun.
Some tips for play:

This play scenario is excellent to work on your child's sequencing skills.  Talk about what happens first, second and last at the car wash.  Ask your child how you will get the toys wet, soapy, dry, etc.

 Let your child do the squirting.  The squirt bottle is fantastic for strengthening your child's hand muscles that are necessary for fine motor control.

Try and make the play as symbolic as possible.  Have your child put the toys in line waiting their turn to get washed.  Encourage your child to talk to the toys and tell them what is happening.  He may even want to collect money from the drivers.  This is a great time to introduce some vocabulary like "wet" "dry" "spray" "squirt" "soapy" "dirty" "clean" "steering wheel" "driver's seat" "tires" "hood" "trunk."

Toys waiting in line...

You may want to take on roles so that your child has to wait his turn and watch you or a sibling do a job.  If one job is coveted (I guarantee it will be the person in charge of the shaving cream), help your child take turns.

For children who are hesitant with messy play introduce the shaving cream slowly.  Put a little dab on a brush or on the tray and encourage your child to just use the brush to apply it.  If your child is really sensitive, latex gloves can be used to cover their hands.  Once your child begins to acclimate, put a tiny bit of cream on their finger before encouraging them to dive in.  The best thing to help tactilely sensitive children feel comfortable is to model it for them.  A mom or dad who is hesitant to get messy will most likely have a child that is the same.  So, dive on in!  It's just shaving cream - easy, easy clean-up!

Finally, you may want to take a trip to the real car wash before or after this play.  It will make the experience of playing car wash together much more meaningful for both of you! 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year means new stuff

2011 is finally here.  I'm a glass half full kinda gal, so I see a new year as something that is ripe with possibilities.  I hope in the coming 12 months to be able to share more ideas to inspire parents to take the time to play every day.

But, before we can play... we have to organize.

As soon as the holidays end - I literally mean as soon as the last present is opened - I begin stressing about where to put the newly obtained items.  Do I get rid of some old toys?  Do I shift things around?  Don't we already have a toy like that?

I urge all parents out there to really ponder your playroom situation and make some changes before you bring the new toys in.  Your children will love you for it!  An organized space leads to organized ideas.  Organized ideas generate play that is easy to expand upon and garners further creativity.  It's a win-win for children and parents alike!  Here are some suggestions that will get you started:

1.  Clutter free is the way to be - Children play best in spaces that are well organized.  Before you even think of how to organize the items, go through and donate or store anything that your child has not played with in the last year.  And, I mean really played with.  Once or twice for a total of 5 minutes, doesn't count.

2.  Start a rotation - There's no need to display every toy you own in one space.  This isn't your grandmother's china.  As many new items as you are contributing, take the same amount out of the playroom.  This doesn't mean that your child won't ever play with these items again.  Rotate them back in when your child begins to tire of the new toys.  When toys are out of rotation, put them in a place that your child can get to them if they desire.  For example, you may want to rotate toys out of the playroom and onto your child's closet shelf.

3.  Out of sight - out of mind -   I can pretty much guarantee that the toys you take out of the play space will be forgotten very quickly.  Children tend to gravitate toward things that are in their line of vision.  Ever notice how your child plays mostly with the toys that are out of the toy chest?  Take this into consideration when you are organizing.  Piling a ton of toys in a basket or a toy chest doesn't assist your child when they are making decisions for their play.  Even if they come up with an idea of something to play with, chances are that if it's difficult to locate, they won't look for it for long.  They may also get frustrated.  Keep your child's favorite toys accessible and visible.

4.  Donate duplicates - Just because someone gave your son a garbage truck does not mean that he needs that he needs a fleet.  Donate the old or regift the new. 

5.  Organize according to theme - I love storage boxes.  I also love classification.  Use clear boxes to group toys together by theme.  This makes play so much easier for your children.  Not only do they have everything they need to play at their fingertips, but it also helps children who may have difficulty coming up with ideas to start or expand their play.  Play may also last longer when all the components are there and a child doesn't have to search high and low for a necessary piece.  Some themes that I enjoy are: Zoo animals, Farm animals, Police station, Fire station, Play food, Superheroes, Pirates, Barbies, Doctor, Dinosaurs, Trains, Cars, Construction vehicles... the list could go on and on.

6.  Clear a space - Always be sure to have a space delineated for play.  Whether it's a rug, a mat, or some open floor, keep the space clean and empty.  Encourage your child to bring their chosen toys to the open area to play.  If the play extends beyond that area, that's fine!  It's just that children may have an easier time getting started if they begin in a space where their toys aren't competing for room.

I hope these tips get your playroom organized so play can be even more fulfilling in 2011!