Toys and Outdoors

Hello and Happy Thursday,

Yes, Thursday…no I didn’t forget what day it was yesterday (well, I did, but just for a moment), but the time I intended to spend writing turned into time spent on the phone and internet googling “opossum medical care”…

Late in the morning, a neighbor knocked at our door, frantic over an injured baby possum in her patio. A single mom of two tweens, she didn’t know what to do. My husband scooped the poor guy into a box, and I got googling. Long story short, he is in the capable and caring hands of an opossum ‘rehabber’ (who knew there was such a thing?) and I am now involved in a huge network of opossum activists. Life is funny.

How’s YOUR week going? If it’s anything like what I’m hearing when I’m on the RIE Chats, I expect life is full, if not hectic. In the summaries of the chats, I’ve talked a lot about what you can do to help bring some order and predictability into your lives, to create routines and priorities, scheduling time for work and time for play…and that last part is what I wanted to talk about today… play.

Let’s talk about creating opportunities for play and exploration for your babies and toddlers. As you all know, Magda was a big advocate of passive toys to inspire active babies…and that is what I stock my classroom with. Here is a rundown of things I think about when selecting objects for my space:

1. Textures and varied materials…I want to offer things that are metal, wood, silicone, rubber, cloth (for babies and toddler…100% cotton…if it goes in the mouth, rayon and silk are choking hazards), things from nature, plastics (be careful here…I stick to food grade plastics when possible)…)

2. Different qualities…is it hard or soft, does it make a sound, is it heavy or light, is it big (toddlers LOVE carrying big things) or small (if it fits through a toilet paper roll, it is too small), can you nest it?, does it have a lid, does the lid sit on it, screw on, snap off or NOT come off…

3. Groupings…you can put things in bowls, baskets, colanders, recycled plastic jars, cups, containers with lids…or you can put things out simply on shelves or around the floor…in corners, up and down stairs…put them up high, but within reach…hide them under a piece of furniture…But overall, you want to offer things in a symmetrical, organized way…maybe group things by size, likeness, color, shape, etc. As humans, we are drawn to order, and an organized playspace with materials arranged in a visible and interesting way will very naturally invite your child to play and explore.

For older toddlers, think also about setting a simple stage for some ‘dramatic play.’ I often like to set up a little vignette that invites play…bibs, play diapers, baby socks, hats, ramekins, baby bottles with no nipples… etc.

4. Real things…so important to think about real household objects to include…a dustpan and small handled brush that is just for your child, a spray bottle (used under supervision), small pieces of Tupperware, and recycled food containers are such great elements to include. (Pro-tip…one of the treasured items in my classes was a recycled “Coffeemate” container…despite many washings, it retained a sweet smell, and it had the best lid for flicking open and closed. It didn’t last long in my classes, but would last longer if only one or two children was using it).

5. I also recommend, but haven’t gotten for my own classes yet, play trucks or school buses that are a bit larger…that children can crawl along and push. Or toys with strings for pulling.

A parent wrote to me over the weekend, asking for some ideas about toys to add to her space, I responded with a little of the above and created a folder of pictures of some of the toys I’ve used in our classes. I would dearly love it if you would add toys from your home…let’s grow this folder and make it a RIE resource!

While I never recommend completely changing the landscape of your child’s playspace all at once (how would you feel if you walked into your kitchen one more and someone had rearranged everything?), keep an eye on what and how your child plays with things…as you see some items being used less frequently, refresh them with something new. It’s helpful to have a ‘stash’ of things you can rotate. Also, when you notice your child seems to be at loose ends, and the playspace has been thoroughly…well, played out…slowly start to do a bit of a reset. Notice how quickly your child reengages.

To practice a little uninterrupted play observation, start with an organized and inviting playspace, and you and your child are rested and fed and in comfortable clothes…utilize the caregiving time beforehand to really connect with and fill yourself and your child up. Sit in the space with your child and try practicing a bit of mindfulness…just be. Your child may bring you things to engage with…acknowledge, but don’t engage. Just as we do in class practice ‘warm neutrality.’ Watch for what interests your child, what surprises you about their choices and what doesn’t, consider any feelings that come up, but don’t act on them (unless your child is unsafe).

Lastly, I want to talk about outdoor play and exploration. Some families have backyards, which is just awesome and I have heard such gratitude expressed for them in the calls over the last week…not everyone does, though…so…families take walks, sometimes find open fields, or sparse parks. I recommend taking ‘silly’ walks, to play “I spy” on your walks, and to go on scavenger hunts…what other tips and tricks are you implementing in your outdoor explorations…please share!

That’s it for this week. I hope you can join me for an upcoming RIE Chat, hit me up for a short facetime with you or your little one, get in touch with me about video consultations…or just let me know how I can help.

May the rest of your week be peaceful and injured possum-free…though if you do come across one, let me know…I know a guy. 🙂