It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Quirks and the learning curve

Melissa and Doug pattern blocksNoah tackles the pattern blocks, but quickly becomes frustrated. He understands the basic idea — make a picture using the shapes — but lacks the fine motor control to place the shapes on the unfortunately slick wooden card.

We work together.

It’s interesting to note what kids can and can’t do. Some of this is their stage of life, some of it is quirky to the child. Mostly it’s a mixture of both.

I point to the diagram on the card. “I need a yellow diamond. Can you find me a yellow diamond?”

Yes, he can. Easily. Even though there are also white diamonds in the box, but I know he’s sorting by colour, not shape.

“Find me a green triangle, please.”

He immediately hands me a green triangle. (This is simple because, apart from the diamonds there is only one shape per colour. All the triangles are green. Only the triangles are green. )

“Now I need a green shape.”

I get a green shape. It’s a triangle, as it must be. “Thank you for the green triangle, Noah.”

“Now I need a triangle. Can you find me a triangle?”

Nope. Suddenly, there are no triangles in the box. Hee.

So he knows his colours, but not his shapes. Pretty straightforward. It gets quirkier than that, though.

“Look at the card. We are going to need one, two, three blue squares.” I point to the blue squares, one at a time. “Pass me a blue square, please.”

I get the first blue square.

“Thank you for that blue square.” I place it on the blue square on the card. “Now I need one of these.” I point to the next blue square on the card. “Can you find me one like this, please?”

Nope. Can’t do it. He hands me shapes at random, first a white diamond and then a purple trapezoid, and finally a red hexagon.

“This shape,” pointing to the card, “is blue. It is square. I will need a –” and he plonks the blue square onto the floor beside the card.

He knows blue. He doesn’t know square. More interesting, he cannot yet see a picture of a blue square and find the corresponding square blue tile from the box.

Interesting, I tell you. Isn’t that interesting?

October 29, 2009 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Noah, quirks and quirkiness | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Non-toy playthings

When my eldest was three, she had a “doctor box”. I’m not quite sure how it earned that name, but that’s what it was.

The doctor box was in fact a shoe box, filled with … oh, this and that. A lot of it came from the kitchen: plastic measuring cups and spoons, a funnel or two, a mesh strainer. There was often a (carefully washed) pill-bottle or two in there. (Maybe that’s where the name came from?) Fabric scraps, a belt buckle, a handful of jigsaw puzzle pieces, a couple of polished rocks, a feather. You get the idea. It was just a collection of interesting stuff. Interesting to a three-year-old, at any rate.

The contents of the box were not static. Some things were returned to their orginal spots, or used in crafts, or just lost somewhere. Other things were put in.

Whatever its contents, the doctor box was the favourite plaything for months and months. I could take it on car trips or trips to the doctor (maybe that explains the name?) or anywhere there’d be an otherwise boring downtime, knowing that the wonders of the doctor box would keep her happily occupied for as long as necessary.

Sometimes she was a doctor (name?), sometimes she was a chef, sometimes she was a fireman. (Not “fighter”. She was a fireman.) Sometimes the items in the box had personas and characters: they tended to squabble amongst themselves a lot, the strainers and the feather and the rocks. A lot of chatter, a lot of imagination, a lot of very happy hours were passed with the doctor box.

It was the best money I never spent.

I take a similar approach to the daycare. People often assume that, as a daycare home, I must be overrun with toys. It’s true, I have more toys stored in my dining room than the average mother of teens and a twenty-something! But I’m quite, quite sure I have far fewer toys kicking around than many (most?) homes with only one toddler. In part, that’s simply practicality: I have a small house. I do not want piles of multi-coloured clutter toys littering my home. I do not want them, but, even more to the point, children do not need them.

Children do not need great mounds of toys. I am convinced that children with shelves and closets and cupboards full of toys are poorer at amusing themselves, and more in need of distraction, than children accustomed to fewer toys. Just because they have fewer toys does not mean they play less! They just play differently. One might argue, more creatively, using more imagination.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s discovered the glories of the non-toy. I know I’m not because the writers and commenters over at Unclutterer have come up with a lovely long list of toy alternatives. Don’t stop with the post. The commenters have a ton of good ideas!

One might note that a significant number of these non-toy playthings look to the adult eyes like work: sorting socks, making cookies, straightening the fringe on the carpet. Not to the child! With these kinds of activities, the children’s play is not something remote and unconnected with the Real Life of the household, but is, instead, part of it. This sort of children’s play models adult behaviour, helps children feel part of the family, gives them real, productive tasks in which to take pride. It builds self-esteem.

It is we adults who have decided that “play” is by definition frivolous, with no agenda but the activity itself. For children, play is how they make sense of the world around them. Everything and anything is play fodder: colouring, singing, sorting socks, putting dirty dishes in the sink (non-breakable, at this age!), blocks, puzzles, washing the car, counting to ten, sweeping up the dried leaves that fell off their leaf belts. Play is not frivolous, it is practicing life.

Life. Work, recreation, even conflict. It’s all fodder for play.

My, I’ve wandered from my original idea… All right, given that we needn’t feel guilty for “only” baking with our kids and “only” letting them help with chores, rather than playing with them; given that you can choose not to spend a heap of money on a mound of toys… Given all that, how does this manifest in your home? What are some non-toy playthings or activities that your child particularly enjoys?

October 9, 2008 Posted by | crafts, daycare, Developmental stuff, socializing | , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

No sexism, please, we’re toddlers

“No, Timmy! This is only for girls!”

It’s a shape puzzle, but I don’t need to know that to respond.

“Anna. There are no ‘only for girls’ toys in my house. There are no ‘only for boys’ toys, either. All the toys are for any children.”

Timmy encroaches further. Anna pulls the puzzle toward her.

I understand Anna’s protectiveness. Timmy’s favourite toy is almost always the one the other guy is holding. It doesn’t matter if he has an armful of something completely engrossing. Someone else can walk by with one tiny thing, and suddenly that’s the ONE THING he wants to play with — has to play with.

It’s not greediness or possessiveness in Timmy’s case. The other person’s attention to their thing draws his. I think his mind goes something like this: “I have this toy, this toy is fun, I like thi — OOOO! SOMETHING SHINY!” So no, it’s not greed or anything malicious. It is, however, a royal pain. It is also not surprising the others get a little tired of Timmy’s interest in their toys.

However, there are at least a hundred shapes in the bin, red, yellow, purple, blue, green, triangles, squares, diamonds, trapezoids, hexagons… with a dozen wooden picture plates to put them on. Plenty to share. Dozens and dozens to share.

“No, Timmy, this is only for…” Anna glances up. Probably felt the heat of my Evil Eye burning through the top of her head. She hesitates, a look of consternation on her face.

Then breaks into a beaming smile.

“… only for girls and boys!”

I smile, too. Anna smiles back, more so.

Anna gives Timmy one. red. hexagon. He smiles, too.

It’ll do.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Anna, manners, socializing, Timmy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments