Play & Learning: A Few of My Favorite Things for Dramatic Play

So far, I have shared my favorite toys & activities for manipulative play & physical play. Today, I am going to continue sharing some of my favorite tools and activities for dramatic play! Whereas manipulative and physical play are focused on motor skills, facilitating dramatic play is a little different because now we're talking about sparking the imagination and some higher level cognitive (thinking) skills.

 

I love dramatic play. Stimulating a child's imagination feels magical. Children can be so creative; you never know what they're going to come up with! But you are sure to have a great time and make memories that will last a life time!

For dramatic play, be prepared to use all the things you were thinking you'd be throwing away. This includes any bottles, boxes, or well used storage containers. These are going to be the tools. On the other hand, you could just buy some great props. I'll be including several dramatic play ideas and a variety of tools to complete each activity! You pick what works for you- might be somewhere in between!

Great Ideas & Tools for Dramatic Play:

 Life Over C's

Life Over C's

 Photo by Amy at Serving Pink Lemonade Blog

Photo by Amy at Serving Pink Lemonade Blog

  • Farm: A great pretend play activity for the little ones! Mom can serve as the farmer while the kiddos get to pretend to be different animals. For the youngest ones, it might be a good idea for Mom to model pretending to be the animal and allowing them to imitate. You can practice animal sounds and names!
    • Grab What You Have: You can show pictures of animals on the iPad or computer. Then use these free printables (Life Over C's) to make masks and pretend to be all the farm animals!
    • Pre-Made Resources: Pick up some farm animal masks. You can find really cheap options (these are currently $6) with a variety of animal faces!
  • Superheros: I think this is one of the first dramatic play activities a lot of children pick up. Maybe this is because our culture has a plethora to choose from right now or maybe because "flying" (aka running through the house) is so much fun with a cape and a mask! 
    • Grab What You Have: Grab your pillow cases or towels and clothes pins so they can serve as your capes. Then make masks using paper plates & markers or crayons! Kids will feel very proud of their custom-made mask!
    • Pre-Made Resources: If you're looking for a simple resource you can always have on hand, Amazon has some excellent options! Check out this 5-pack of superhero costumes!
  • Doctor: Playing doctor is a favorite at our house! Apparently, I'm an invalid because my son is always asking, "Mommy, your head hurt?" He goes to get his doctor kit and is all set to cure whatever ails me!
    • Grab What You Have: Mom's white button up shirt works well for a doctor's coat (or pick up one from Miracle Hill). Use the couch as the examination table, and set up 2 chairs with some books for the waiting area. Here is a fun DIY stethoscope by Serving Pink Lemonade! How cute is that???  Prescribe some M&Ms, and you're on your way to a healthy recovery!
    • Pre-Made Resources: Fisher Price Makes a great medical kit that includes the doctor's coat, doctor's bag, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff with "working" pump, thermometer, syringe, and bandage. Check is out here on Amazon!
  • Lemonade Stand: If you're having a yard sale this spring, help your child set up a real lemonade stand! We did this last year when my son was 2, and he loved it! It took a good bit of assistance from me, and I'm pretty sure he spilled as much lemonade as he sold. He also drank the majority of lemonade and ate his fair share of chocolate chip cookies. We had a ball! After we had our real lemonade stand, we continued having make believe lemonade stands in our play room! 
    • Grab What You Have: Take 2 chairs and throw a sheet over them to make your stand. Have your child have you draw your sign using whatever paper and markers you have on hand. If you have cookie mix or dough, throw some together! Or use play food if your already have that. Grab some cups and some lemonade (or plan water). Now you're all set! For us, half the fun is mixing the lemonade and making cookies (most of the time it's a mix; I'm not typically the bake from scratch Mom). My kids are so proud of their creations!
    • Pre-Made Resources: There are so many options out these for pre-made lemonade stands. I'll share 3 with you:
      • Melissa & Doug Lemonade Stand- This is a fun addition if you're looking for a bigger and permanent piece for your play room. I love all the little bins, and it doubles as a grocery store!
      • HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle- This has a nice table cover (for card table) that also serves as your sign and price tag, cute apron, and straws.
      • Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit- This kit full of fun includes lemonade mix, sugar cookie mix, cookie cutter, wooden spoon, paper hat, paper price sheet, paper banner, recipe and instructions.
 Melissa & Doug Lemonsade Stand

Melissa & Doug Lemonsade Stand

 HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle

HIDEABOO Easy Lemonade Stand Bundle

 Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit

Sassafras Lemonade Stand Kit

I Hope you enjoy these! What dramatic play activities do your children like to engage in?

Play & Learning: My Favorite Things for Physical Play

Last week I shared toys for manipulative play. This week I am going to continue sharing some of my favorite things with you! This time we are looking at toys for physical play!  Get ready to move!!!

Great Toys for Physical Play:

  • Balls While a ball is a favorite toy for me (and all the kiddos I work with) I do not have a favorite ball. It depends on the child I'm working with, their developmental skills, and their personality. There are balls with rivets that can help with sensory issues, balls that light up, ball that are huge, balls that are small. You pick! The one I'm sharing with you here is great for sensory due to the rivets, light weight, but it can also be stretched! Lots of fun things, but it's also $10. A child can have just a much fun with a ball from the dollar store.
  • Catch Me Crabbie How adorable is this crab?!? My aunt actually bought this toy for my daughter. I loved it so much, I've bought 2 more for Tiny Feet. Haha! When you press the button on his head, he plays a jingle & goes crawling across your floor. This is such a great gross motor activity! I use it with babies and toddlers, whether we're reaching for the toy, crawling, walking, or running after him! The activation button is great for cause and effect as well!
  • Pop Up Tunnel Kids love crawling in, crawling through and playing games such as peek-a-boo. Really the possibilities are as endless as your imagination. We pretend to be fish swimming in the river or a truck going through a tunnel. I use this with my crawlers, but the older kiddos love it as well! If you turn it vertically and hold it in place, your child can practice seeing how high her or she can jump!
  • Melissa & Doug Chomp & Clack Alligator Push Toy These little alligators open and close their mouths as your child is pushing it forward! Very durable (it's Melissa and Doug!) Perfect for that child who is cruising along furniture but not ready for walking independently! Really, any push toy is great, but this one is my favorite!
  • Push Mower I would say all boys love this toy, but really, all the girls love it too! It's a great outdoor toy for the back yard. It has a place for bubbles. The faster you go, the more bubbles come out! Perfect for the ones who are walking or just beginning to walk! It promotes more independence and working towards that faster walk/run.
  • Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop! This set is lots of fun for your little one to "help" you clean your house. Model cleaning activities and they can follow right along with you! It's a great set for siblings because between the broom, mop, brush, and dust pan, there is something for everyone! Once again, it's Melissa & Doug, so you know you're getting a high quality, durable toy!
  • Slide with Stairs One of the skills I'm constantly asking parents about is, "How does your child do with stairs? Does he alternate his feet? Does he hold on to the rail?" A toy like this is a great way to make these gross motor skills play rather then routine. Through play, it becomes fun and children practice over and over again! And of course, you go up the stairs to get the reward of sliding down! Excellent reinforcer! The one I'm recommending also has a swing!
  • Balance Bike This one might seem a little scary at first, but really, a great way to teach your child to ride a bike. With a balance bike, you'll never have to worry about training wheels! You can look around at different designs; some are for children as young as a year and a half. The balance bike pictured is the one my son has. It has been great for us! If you make the purchase, know that is takes most kids a month to get the hang of it (and they just keep getting better)!

Each of the toys listed have a link to Amazon so you can see more details of what I'm recommending. However, as you guys know, I'm a thrifty lady, and I always shop around before purchasing!

We all know that for physical play, you don't necessarily need a toy. So here are... 

Some of My Favorite Activities for Physical Play-

  • A riveting game of tag! We run circles in our house trying to catch one another! 
  • Duck, Duck, Goose! While they may not completely understand, tapping each other on the head and running in a circle is always loads of fun!
  • Jumping in rain puddles! I know the Mom in all of us wants to hold back on this... BUT... Life is short, go put on your rain boots, and get a little messy with your kiddo! You won't regret it! The look on your kid's face will be enough.

What about you? What are your favorite toys and activities for physical play?

Play & Learning: My Favorite Things for Manipulative Play

While this is a really fun portion of the Play & Learning blog series to write, I feel I must begin with a caution. Some researchers are hesitant to recommend specific toys because there are so many factors present as to what is an effective toy for your child. Some contributing factors include- the personality of your child (and you know your child like no one else, certainly better than me), However, as an artist has his or her paint brushes, I have toys. For an Early Interventionist, toys are the tools of the trade. And I do have some that I love more than others. 

Last week, we discussed 4 different types of play: manipulative, physical, dramatic, & creative. Over the next four weeks, I'll be sharing my favorite toys of each of these types of play. This week, we are going to focus on my favorite toys for Manipulative Play. Each picture is hyperlinked to Amazon so you can see more details for each toy! Get ready to have some fun!

Great Manipulative Toys:

  • Links- These links are crazy cheap (Currently $1.89 on Amazon). They are excellent for a baby who is learning to grasp because of their shape and light weight! To top it off great colors for visual stimulation & a variety of edges for tactile stimulation! Later your child can use these for higher level developmental skills such as transferring the link from one hand to the other or reaching for a toy that is held up by a strand of these links! Really with these links the possibilities are endless.
  • Rattles- If you go to the store, they're going to have 15,000 rattles for you to choose from. The reason I'm sharing this rattle is you can hit a variety of skills with this one rattle- light so it's easy for young ones to hold, same great shape as our links which are easy to hold, makes a nice rattle sound when shaken, without being too loud, the egg piece & two movable links allow for child to spin or manipulate as higher level developmental skills take form.
  • Mirrors- A cheap $5-$8 mirror can be found at the local dollar store, Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Turn it on it's side and mount to the wall in your child's play area. Make sure it's low enough that your child can see himself or herself. You child can pat the mirror, point to himself  or herself, point to body parts, or point to other people when named through the mirror. This is a great social-emotional activity for your child!
  • Wooden Blocks- We are big fans of Melissa & Doug toys at our house. They're (typically) wooden which makes then pretty sturdy. They're classic, colorful, and oh-so-much-fun! When it came time for us to invest in some wooden blocks, there was not question that the Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks were the brand for us! Here is a brief developmental progression of how to use these toys (reaching to grasp, transferring the block from one hand to the other to get a new block, banging the blocks together, building a tower (try getting to 9!), making a train, and making a bridge!
  • Ring Stacker- When I found this stacker on Amazon while researching for this blog post, I was shocked to see that my favorite ring stacker is $21 when bought new. I would never pay that in a million years... However, I will maintain that it is my favorite because when you stack a link, the whole thing lights up and plays a lively song! It's great positive reinforcement for getting those links on and both of my kiddos have enjoyed bouncing to the music (pulling in that physical play!). I was able to find my ring stacker for $4.50 at Switch-A-Roos! So keep your eyes peeled when you're out and about!
  • Mega Blocks- Once your child is able to start connecting the over-sized prongs, he or she will be engaged in play for quite a while. These blocks are heavy duty! I've had my same set since I first started working as an Early Interventionist. If they get dirty, throw them in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning and you'll be all set for another round of play!
  • Shape Sorter- Shape sorters have a multitude of options. However, this hippo shape sorter is a ton of fun! I give my kiddos on shape to insert at a time and once they get them all in, they get to push the spinner watching the blocks go round and round until they fall out the hippos mouth! A variety of skills and so much fun!
  • Big Knob Puzzle- These big knob puzzles are so great for tiny hands! My favorite brand for a big knob puzzle is Melissa & Doug (...again...). We have the house, the barn, the fish bowl, and house pets. We LOVE them! My kids start out just pulling out all the pieces, and I use hand over hand to help them insert. As children grow older, they can match the picture of the puzzle piece to the hole in the puzzle. These are high-quality wooden puzzles that last and last!
  • String & Beads- Why string beads when you can string a farm??? ALEX Toys Little Hands String A Farm is sooo cute! Very colorful! And you can practice naming animals and their sounds while stringing them! 
  • Water Beads & Fine Motor Tools- These water beads provide SO MUCH FUN!!! They start out teeny tiny, soak them in water for 6-10 hours, and then they come out as these marble sized jello-like balls (though firmer). We gather all our tools- water beads in a nice sized bowl, some smaller bowls, spoons, and fine motor tools all contained on a baking sheet. The baking sheet really confines the mess because these little beads sure can bounce. All the children I work with and my own kids adore these beads. The wetness of the beads provide a great sensory activity and the fine motor opportunities are endless! 

What about you guys? Do you have any great recommendations for manipulative or physical toys that I might have missed? I'm always on the lookout for great new toys! I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Play & Learning: Where to Buy Great Toys

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I must confess... I am a bargain hunter. I do not like buying things full price, even if it is more convenient. I love the thrill of the hunt. Love, love, love it! And when it comes to toys for my children, I refuse to pay full price. The toy is either going to- break, get lost, or no longer be of interest. You will not see me buying toys from Toys R' Us or Target unless it is some crazy Black Friday 80% off screaming deal. So today, I'm going to share with you my top 5 favorite places to buy toys.

  1. Consignment Stores- The  #1 place I buy toys is from the local consignment stores in my community. If I have 5 extra minutes and I'm near one, I always go check it out. Now you have to know your prices and the quality (and by quality I do mean nicest toys for cheapest prices...) of the consignment store. Consignment Stores are certainly not all created equal (one down the street from me totally gouges prices). The Greenville area has some great consignment stores-

    • Once Upon a Child- I feel like I'm sharing my secret... But Once Upon a Child is my absolute favorite consignment store when looking for toys! I don't know how they do it, but they consistently have the cheapest prices for some pretty amazing toys. I've gotten Melissa & Doug wooden toys for $4.50. I seriously cannot say enough about this place... They have a wide selection of big and small items.

    • Little Pampered People- I love this store because they consistently have adorable boutique items as well. They are also very consistent with baby equipment.

    • Kids & More Consignment Store- Touted the largest consignment store in Greenville, but my favorite thing about Kids & More is that the price of items are reduced the longer they take to sell. I have gotten some excellent deals on books (I am obsessed children's literature) and toys!

    • Miracle Hill- Everyone has a Miracle Hill near them somewhere. I have found some great diamond's in the rough while perusing the aisle at Miracle Hill. Definitely worth the stop!

  2. Consignment Sales-  I would say that Consignment Sales are my favorite places to buy toys... Oh, all right... there's no doubt that Consignment Sales are my favorite places to buy toys. But the reason they didn't make #1 on this list is that they are only a couple days a couple times a year. If you are a thrill-of -the-hunt junkie like me, you will feel so pleased with all your prizes after going to a consignment sale. Here are some of my favorites for those of us in the Upstate-

    • Switch-A-Roos- In my opinion, Switch-A-Roos is the Taj Mahal of consignment sales. Total fan girl right here, guys. It's held bi-annually at the TD Convention Center (Greenville location, but they also hold a Spartanburg sale as well). Best part? IT'S COMING UP!!!! If you're a new mom, you can get in before they open to the public on Thursday, February 9th (you do have to sign up). Switch-A-Roos is open to the public Friday, February 10th.

    • WeeCycled Wear- This consignment sale is coming up March 17th-19th. Not nearly as big as Switch-A-Roos, but still a great sale with lots of great finds! This consignment sale is also at the TD Convention Center in Greenville. 

    • Upstate Kids- One of my favorite things about this sale is that it's offered in a variety of locations and provides something closer to those west of Greenville. This year, Upstate Kids is having sales at the Anderson Civic Center (March 16th-18th, also the biggest of the 3), Clemson Center Rec (April 20-22), and Seneca Shaver Rec (May 11-13). I've been to this sale multiple times and loved it! Once again, this sale is much smaller than Switch-A-Roos, but nevertheless, great is it's own right.

  3. Amazon- In the world of honesty, sometimes you know the toy you want/need & you don't have time to go look around for an amazing deal. And who could possibly hate on free 2-day shipping? Thank you for changing my life, Amazon Prime!

  4. Ebay- Right before I buy something off Amazon, I always price check with Ebay. Sometimes things are significantly cheaper on Ebay than other places. I am one who is not bothered at all by waiting a couple days to win an auction (I've gotten some great items for $1-3 by being a little patient), it never hurts to compare!

  5. Garage & Yard Sales- I love garage sales and highly recommend them. My best friend got an amazing vintage wooden kitchen for $50 once. The only trouble is that as a Mom, how often do we actually get to go get a coffee and peruse local garage sales? Certainly not as often as I'd like! Furthermore, you never know what you're going to find... You might find all kinds of bargains, but then again, you might not find anything after a whole day of exploring. But isn't that also part of the fun? 

 Here is one photo of the rows upon rows of toys at Switch-A-Roos! Makes my heart beat a little faster!

Here is one photo of the rows upon rows of toys at Switch-A-Roos! Makes my heart beat a little faster!

Hope some of these ideas were helpful! What about you? Do you have places you love to find a bargain that I didn't share? I'd love to hear!

 

Play & Learning: Picking the Right Activity

In Early Intervention, we use activity-based learning which simply means we assist families in creating learning opportunities by embedding curriculum items in naturally occurring routines, activities, and settings. So when you sit down to play with your child, how do you decide what to play? 

Picking the Right Activity: Questions to ask yourself

  • What developmental milestone do we want to work on? In Early Intervention, we always work on skills that are important to the family and their daily routines. So think about it, what is important to you? What would you like to see your child doing?

    • To further help with selecting the developmental milestone you would like to address, think through: Is this skill developmentally appropriate?  The CDC offers excellent resources on developmental milestones by age. Definitely check it out if you are not sure what you could be working on with your child!

    • In addition and closely related to the last question: Is this an emerging skill for my child? Your child is not going to go from rolling over to walking. Instead, an appropriate milestone to work on after your child is rolling over might be sitting with support. All children develop at different rates, so while developmental appropriateness is important, determining the next skill in the progression of developmental milestones is critical. 

  • What is the best way to teach this skill?

    • Do we need a toy? 90 percent of preschool children’s play in the United States involves a toy. However, don't let this rule out other opportunities during play. For example, when a baby is learning to crawl, placing a toy he or she loves just out of reach is a great method to encourage crawling. However, you can switch it up by offering a yummy snack (my kids were always motivated by puffs) or simply the smile on your face your arms outstretched as you verbally encourage your child to crawl towards you. So be creative! 

      • If you decide you do need a toy, think through your child's interests. Professor Trawick-Smith (Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut) found "many of the toys nominated by parents and teachers that were used most often and in the most complex ways by boys. This included items that seemed gender-neutral from an adult perspective. What set the highest-scoring toys apart was that they prompted problem solving, social interaction, and creative expression in both boys and girls. Interestingly, toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented—construction toys and toy vehicles, for example—elicited the highest quality play among girls." ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play") Remember when selecting toys, that blocks, Legos, etc, are not just for boys!

      • In addition, Professor Trawick-Smith gave one rule of thumb for families in selecting toys that emerged from his studies- Basic is better! ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play")

      • Continue monitoring the effectiveness of the toy. Some toys have a powerful influence on children’s thinking, interaction with peers, and creative expression. Other toys do not. Once toys are selected, teachers can carefully observe their impact on children’s play. Do toys elicit a good balance of play behaviors, across social, intellectual, and creative areas of development? ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play")

I hope this blog post has gotten you thinking about what you would like your child to begin working on and brainstorming activities and/or toys you could use to begin working with your child on these skills. Going forward in this series we still will be taking a look at how to scaffold learning during play, some great places to find toys, and some of my favorite toys you can use to address different developmental milestones!


Resource

What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play | National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.naeyc.org/content/what-research-says-toys-and-play

Play & Learning

I am very excited about our new 4-part blog series- "Play & Learning"! Why are we dedicating an entire series to play? Because children learn through play! Learning and play are not two separate activities for the child but instead, inextricably intertwined. I hope you'll follow us as we discuss over the coming weeks: some things to know (this week), how to think through picking the right toy, strategies for using the toys you have, and where to find toys! This is truly a fun topic to explore!

 "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

"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

 

Some Important Things to Know About Play

 "Play is not some touchy-feely activity."

"Play is not some touchy-feely activity."

  1. Maria Montessori said, "Play is the work of the child." How true this is! We've all seen kids deeply engaged in an activity, putting in their all to problem solve, accomplish a task, or try something new! My 3-year-old son can often be caught furrowing his brow or sticking out his tongue in deep concentration during play.
  2. "Children learn through play" 
    • According to Fromberg and Gullo (1992), play enhances language development, social competence, creativity, imagination, and thinking skills. Frost (1992) concurred, stating that "play is the chief vehicle for the development of imagination and intelligence, language, social skills, and perceptual-motor abilities in infants and young children" (p. 48). (Fox) 
  3. Play develops the "whole child." 
    • Fine Motor: From a baby learning to point, to a toddler learning to turn a page, these develop the muscles in fingers that will soon lead to hold a pencil, imitating lines, and writing letters!
    • Gross Motor: From a baby rolling over to running across the room while holding a book, play leads to the development of gross motor skills.
    • Language Skills- As children explore objects during play, they learn vocabulary (i.e. the names of the fruits & vegetables with their kitchen set). 
    • Social- Children learn to express their wants and needs verbally during play, developing social skills.
    • All of these skills come together, helping develop cognition and the child's understanding of the world.
  4. Play is a very broad term. Regardless, all forms of play are beneficial in the development of a child.
    1. Who? Play may take place individually, with a partner, or with a group. Play can happen with a parent and child or a child with his/her peers.
    2.  What? Play can include toys or be as basic as a Mother and her baby smiling reciprocally.  
    3. Where? Play can take place outside at the park or in your backyard, but it can also take place indoors during bath time, while reading a book, or playing with toys on the floor.
  5. Play is healthy and reduces stress! (Bongiorno) Research shows this and parents across America know it intrinsically. 
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Side note for the early childhood professionals out there: We are using the term "play"  in a broad sense for this blog series (includes direct instruction and free-play unless otherwise noted)


Sources:

Bongiorno, L. (n.d.). 10 Things Every Parent Should Know about Play. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/10-things-every-parent-should-know-about-play

Fox, J. E. (n.d.). Back-to-Basics: Play in Early Childhood. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=240