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Loose Parts and Free Play

By Alice Cavanagh

Loose parts play allows children to freely play with pieces of things rather than finished toys. Loose parts are things that can be played with that have no directions for play and can be used independently or combined. Give one child dowels, cardboard pieces, elastic, and glue, and they will build a car to play with, another child will build a magic forest. Children will come up with new and unexpected uses for each of the items and will sometimes incorporate larger items or other toys with their loose parts.

Loose parts can be found in your recycling bin, craft stores, sheds, and old appliances. Items such as popsicle sticks, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, old Tupperware containers, string or ribbon from wrappings, and broken utensils can all be fun. Loose parts are a great way to let your kids practice the “Reuse” part of the 3 R’s and require very little investment on your part, not much more than a roll of tape and some glue. The value of loose parts over a toy such as Lego is that there is no pressure to create a finished, good looking, complete object. Kids can create whatever they imagine. Some creations will be weird or look like a pile of junk, but the imagination they use in the creation will serve them well in school and life.

Loose parts play is a fantastic and important component to learning. These loose materials inspire open-ended learning. Many children will take loose parts and use them with their toy sets, enriching their play further. Children use trial and error learning in the attempt to make the parts fit together for their creation, eventually this leads to the foundation of the scientific method where you attempt the same thing a second time to reproduce a result. Children also learn to make mistakes and how to problem solve when left to their own devices with a pile of loose parts.

Children prefer to play in a world that they create. An always popular story is the one of the Christmas where a child got an amazing toy but she preferred to play with the box the toy came in. This is a common parent frustration but, demonstrates clearly the inherent need children have to play with loose parts. Loose parts allow children to layer complexity on their play. Adding blankets to a couch makes a fort, adding a cardboard circle (a ships wheel) and tube (a telescope) turns it into a pirate ship, adding a box means they can leave their ship and find treasure.

Loose parts allow children to explore without fear, they can break objects, not complete projects, or cut things with scissors into little tiny pieces without any repercussions. This lack of fear will encourage children to push boundaries that they cannot in their regular school projects or with toys that have a defined play style. Being able to explore materials and make mistakes is an opportunity that isn’t always available.

As a parent, your job with loose parts play is to supply age appropriate items and tools, and to allow your child to make a mess when playing with them, remember, there is no wrong way to play. Don’t be afraid to show your child how to do something they simply don’t know how to do, such as how to cut a hole in the middle of a box. Once you have shown them allow them to then try it on their own. This will foster independence, experimentation and learning. It can be hard, especially if your child gets frustrated but frustration is a part of the learning process.

Many of us were given this kind of play opportunity when we were children although it wouldn’t have been recognised as anything unusual. My parents kept a scrap wood pile and a scrap fabric pile that we could take things from whenever we wanted. We created all sort of things out those scraps and items stolen from the recycling bin. Some kids on my street used to use scraps of plywood to make bike jumps and skateboard ramps. All of this play was independently directed but we learned carpentry, sewing and risk assessment skills.

If you are wondering how to get your kids started with loose parts a great way is to supply marbles and items from your recycling bin. Next thing you know you will have marble runs, musical instruments, strange games involving sorting marbles, and all sorts of other fun.

Five Quick and Healthy Snack Ideas Your Kid Can Make Themselves

by Kathleen Oliphant

Do your kids have perfect timing of when they ask you for a snack? By that I mean that at the exact moment you have just finished cleaning the bathroom, putting in three loads of laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and you are just about to sit down for a ten minute break before you need to start making dinner when you hear “I’m hungry, can I have a snack?” It was at one of these moments, when my daughter was about five, that I decided that it would be a good idea for all concerned if I encouraged her to learn how to make her own snack. Not only does it mean I don’t have to get up the exact moment I sit down, but it also encourages independence and starts building real life skills at an early age.

Here are five ideas for healthy snacks that kids (depending on their age) can make themselves.

Frozen Fruit – My daughter started eating frozen fruit as a toddler for teething, but it has lasted  the years as her favourite snack. It was the first snack she made herself. I keep a couple bags of various kinds (strawberries, peaches, mango and raspberries are her favourite) in the freezer. She can easily get a bowl, pour a bit in and snack away.

Yogurt – This is another easy and healthy snack that most preschool aged kids can get themselves. Grab a bowl and a spoon, spoon some yogurt into the bowl – done! Yes, you may find dollops of yogurt on your floor or counter, but after a while they get the hang of it.

Hummus and baby carrots – My daughter prefers my hummus over store bought (because I put a bit of honey in mine), but either way she can get some into a bowl and grab some baby carrots out of a bag and in seconds she has a good healthy snack.

Cheese, crackers and fruit – This one is for kids that are old enough that you feel comfortable teaching them how to use a cheese knife. It also requires more ingredients to be prepared and perhaps fruit to be cut up. But still, after you supervise and coach them through it the first couple times, they can manage this one themselves.

Toast with nut butter (or non nut butter) – This was the most recent addition to my daughter’s snack repertoire and one that she now also makes herself in the morning. You have to feel comfortable that your child can handle using the toaster safely. Once you have crossed that hurdle, it is easy to have some whole grain bread on hand and some nut butter in the cupboard that they can spread with a butter knife.

She is now also cooking some simple meals, like eggs and toast, using the stove (supervised, for now). What started out as a way for me to get that much needed ten minute break has turned into a gradual growth of independence in my daughter which builds both confidence and useful life skills.

 

Ten Tips for Talking to Children about Death

Part Two of our series. 

By Heather Hansen, RSW MSW BSW BA

Step one: Honour your own grief.

You are allowed to feel and it’s important that you do. In fact, your ability to engage with your own grief can enable you to be aware and responsive to your child’s needs.

Step two: Orientate yourself towards what your child needs.

While it is productive for children to see honest emotion, it can be terrifying for a child to see their parent collapse with grief. Be mindful of what you need, give yourself time and space for that, and then orientate yourself towards what your child needs: a gathered, albeit emotional, you.

Step three: Gather the facts.

All people, and especially kids, need context to help them understand and accept their loss. You may not choose to share these details, but having the information about when, where, and how the person died will ensure you’re ready if (and when) they ask.

Step four: Think timing.

While there may never a “good” time to talk about death, sooner is better than later. When a death is expected, advanced notification can support a child prepare more gradually. If the death has already occurred, inform them as soon as you are practically and emotionally able to do so. This will prevent them drawing their own conclusions based on what they perceive, observe, or overhear.

 Step five: Be clear and concise.

Age appropriate, simple, and direct communication is of critical importance when notifying children of a death. Avoid euphemisms like “gone to sleep” or gentle words like “passed”. These are inaccurate and can be confusing. Though children may not understand the meaning of the words, using language that reflects the truth, such as “dead” and “died”, can assist them create a vocabulary that they can use in future conversations. It can also help them differentiate between other goodbye words such as “gone bye-bye” and “all gone”.

Step six: Go slow.

The pace of the conversation should be slowed so to not overload and overwhelm them. Give space for them to hear, make sense of your words, and to ask questions. You may have to break up the conversation in to small pieces.

 Step seven: Be ready for the questions…

They might ask if you are joking. They might need you to confirm what you just said. They might ask you to repeat yourself. They might need you to tell them every day, for a while. They are curious, and they might want to know how the person died. They might ask questions that seem unrelated. They might ask questions that are surprising. They might ask questions that are difficult to answer, hurt your heart, or that seem almost rude. They might ask you questions that are really an attempt to have other questions answered (Am I safe? Are you going to die? Is this my fault?). You might think that they have understood and then, at the most random or inopportune time, they might have more questions.

To be ready for their questions does not mean you need to have all the answers. You may need to communicate that you are not sure, or that you need some time before you can answer that. This is perfectly understandable and fair. Readiness is not about knowing everything, it’s about anticipating that children will likely be full of questions, even if they don’t verbalize them.

Step eight: Give permission.

Children need to be provided with permission to feel or express themselves, as they often behave as they believe is expected of them. Some children might need permission to ask all the questions they have. Without permission they might mask their grief or silence their wonder. Children also need to hear that their reactions are normal and acceptable, whatever they might be.

 Step nine: Offer opportunities and choice.

Death can make people feel out of control. Being empowered by choice, therefore, is a productive counter to this. To talk about death some more, or not? To read a story about death, or not? To look at pictures of the deceased person, or not? To attend the funeral, or not? Let them teach you what they need.

Step ten: Caring for children, caring for yourself.

It is important to be tender with yourself, you who have been so brave and generous with your child. Self-care is not just an act of self-love but a way to renew yourself so you can continue to give attention to your child’s complex needs. Be kind to yourself, this is hard work.

Parent-Child Mother Goose at Qayqayt

Discover the power and pleasure of rhymes, songs, and stories.
Cuddle, communicate and connect with your child at the Parent-Child Mother Goose program

at Qaqayt this coming January, 2017. This is a free program run by New Westminster Family Place.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required.  For information and to register please phone

New Westminster Family Place, 604-520-3666.

For more information see Parent-Child Mother Goose Qayqayt

The First Acquired Language: Music

Mishael discovering the guitar in his first months

A pair of deep brown eyes stare into mine already so full of love and trust, and although I’m not sure I deserve such love and trust, they continue to gaze into mine and I am speechless.

Let’s rewind one year. Here I am. First time mom with a new born baby boy in my arms. I couldn’t be happier and also more humbled. Being in the child care field for so many years and working mostly with infants I assumed having my own would be a piece of cake. Wrong.

Sure I already knew how to change a diaper and understand baby babble but what do I do with a newborn that, well, really just lays there and looks at me?

Music.

I rested my son, Mishael, on the living room floor and crossed my legs next to him with an acoustic guitar. Delicately, I strummed chords and sang softly. He seemed pleasantly content and at peace. The next day I let him rest in the living room again as I played and sung to him. The next day as well as the next, I did the same.

Finally, a smile. Before I would even begin to play, Mishael would grin at the sight of me grasping the guitar from its stand.

And then a coo and a hum. He was not only excited when he caught glimpse of the guitar but he had acquired a unique singing voice.

Next a wave of the arm and a shake of the leg. As Mishael’s excitement grew every time I brought out the guitar, his body began to move and wiggle as well.

Music is a language he identifies with. It provides him a way of expressing himself as his vocabulary grows. It wasn’t long after incorporating music continually throughout the day that his expressions grew into many. His babbling grew into words. His waves became clapping. And his legs began bouncing to the rhythm of a song.

Music.

Mishael has developed emotionally, cognitively and physically due to music.

I truly believe that every child can make meaning of the world in their own way through music some way or another. And it doesn’t have to be with an acoustic guitar either. Here is a short list of some places nearby that my son and I love to go every week. They will provide your child with a wonderful start in music and you might just learn a thing or two as well!

 

Baby Time @ New Westminster Public Library. Fridays at 10:15am (no charge)

Pre-school story time @ New Westminster Public Library. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday at 10:15am (no charge)

http://www.nwpl.ca/kids/

Mini Music ages 0-5 @ Music Box. Fridays at 10am and 11am (no charge)

http://www.musicboxnw.ca/childrens-classes/ages-0-3/

Music Kids Daycare @ Top floor of River Market. Occasional and flexible child care, music focused. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. (Charges apply)

http://www.musicboxnw.ca/daycare-new-westminster/

 -Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.