Monday, June 30, 2008

Supporting Toddler Play


Play is the central activity of childhood. For toddlers, play is the way they learn about themselves and their world. It is also the way they begin to master many fundamental physical, social, and intellectual skills and concepts.

Recently my nine year old pointed out to my two year old, that HE didn't even know what a 'play date' was. My two year old's retort (because he was clearly offended) was: blowing a raspberry.

No seriously, of course he knows what a play date is. It's his life's work after all. But this back seat conversation between brothers and a recent successful toddler play date for Little One and his best girl pal Miss S, inspired me to write about the importance of toddler play and how we as parents and caregivers can support it.

Being a supportive adult means responding to a toddler's initiations in play and by expanding the scope of play while still allowing the toddler to take the lead. It takes time to learn how to do this successfully. Caregivers who tailor their behavior to the toddler's activity and then respond thoughtfully and appropriately will help the child to move ahead in all areas of their development.

The following are a list of suggestions; ways we can be supportive caregivers in a Montessori toddler classroom (OR home environment/playgroup):

*Prepare the environment and have a plan. (more about that later)
*Observe children’s play (this can not be said enough: Observe, Observe, Observe! You will learn so much. Toddler’s are valuable teachers of teachers.)
*Allow the children to be as independent as they are able.
*Avoid interrupting children’s play unless absolutely necessary for a scheduled routine such as lunch or nap (in which case warning should be given ie. the turn of the rain stick sounded, a musical chime is struck, etc)
*Let the children know that you are interested in what they do by encouraging them to talk about their play.
*Be available to assist children when your help is needed.
*Encourage the children to explore and experiment with open ended materials in their own ways with the least amount of direction.
*Reserve the word “No” for messages about safety; instead encourage your toddler(s) to use the materials in a different way. Model the behavior you desire.
*Avoid needless conversation with other adults.

When caring for a group of toddlers it will only benefit you and the children you care for, if you prepare the environment ahead. Have many of the items you foresee being popular (ex: balls, blocks, shovels in the sand box). And now,
about that plan…

Like Mary Poppins with her carpet bag, you’ve got to come prepared.
Any Barney fans out there? Remember “Looking in my Barney Bag, to see what I can see…” Every seasoned teacher knows to bring a bag of tricks along when caring for a group of toddlers.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
Puppets
Bubbles
Musical instruments
Paint
Water
Balls
and card board boxes

Despite all the convincing evidence out there that toddlers learn best through play, many caregivers still enforce large group lessons (in my opinion this can be similar to herding cats). And the result is a lot of adult directed time and squirmy toddlers. A group of toddlers cannot be expected to learn the same thing, the same way, at the same time. It is better if groups form spontaneously and if you’ve ever worked with a group of two year olds, you know they will! Your game plan should be:
"Go with the flow" Of course, have your ‘bag of tricks’ ready and waiting and pull from it what you see the children need as they need it. Follow their lead.

Setting aside a specific part of your toddler’s day for “lesson giving” is an idea full of good intentions but it is also often unrealistic. The reason being that every moment of a toddler’s day lessons are being given, valuable information received, learning is always taking place and just because you may be ready and willing the children you are caring for may not be. You've gotta be flexible and patient. That’s why your role is so important. You are your child’s guide. They take their cues from you and you have the power to peek their interest and to nurture their discoveries and exploration.

My suggested guidelines for planned activities:

1.) Allow the children to do for themselves as much as possible, avoid the temptation to make the activity easier for the adult by doing it for the children.
2.) Introduce activities and materials with enthusiasm, model how you want the materials to be used.
3.) Allow children to make mistakes and trust in them to problem solve (Don't jump in to save the day!)
4.) Be prepared to drop your plans and instead follow the children's lead, by expanding on the play they are already involved in.
5.) Prepare the materials you may need ahead of time.
6.) To prevent frustration,learn the developmentally appropriate expectations of your children.
*Source: Young Children Mag. March 1985

Most of all enjoy your time together,toddlers are ever learning at this age and at the same time they are so wise beyond their years! Pay attention, close attention, they have so much knowledge to impart. And if you haven't in a while, get down on the floor and PLAY.
Build a castle, a puzzle, a pile of pillows!
Smoosh some playdough, some berries, a wet sponge!
Have fun!
PEACE
~MM

7 comments:

Amber said...

Thanks - this is a great post! I'm a stay-at-home Montessori Mama and I am always looking for how we can incorporate the Montessori Philosophy into our home... I liked your post because sometimes 'play' isn't mentioned in Montessori articles and books as much as all of the organised activities. I have a 2 1/2 year old and an almost-5 year old and while, yes, we do try to include some organised activities and 'work' into our day there is also a lot of time for free-play.

plaidshoes said...

Oh how I needed you two years ago! I love your ideas. From my experience, you are exactly right.

plaidshoes said...

Also, I love your new site design!

Dayna said...

I really love your blog and all the creative ideas you come up with. You are an inspiration. We like to incorporate Montessori ideas into our everyday being and your blog is so helpful in achieving that. This was a great post. I will definitely save it to read again and again.

Montessori Mama said...

Thank you ladies!
I've been wanting to write about this topic for weeks now. I'm so happy people got something from it.
In PEACE
MM

Rae Pica said...

I'm so glad you pointed out that all toddlers can't be expected to learn the same thing, the same way, at the same time! Young children aren't made from cookie cutters, and if more parents understood that, they'd be putting far less pressure on their little ones to walk, talk, and "excel" at the same rate or faster than the neighbors' children.

Each child is unique, and that's why observation is such an important tool for parents to employ!

MerrandaVK said...

This was one of the most useful posts I have read in blog land in a long time. Thank you! I have really been working lately on not interrupting my children while they play and let their concentration practice build. Keep the tips coming!

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