The Tossing Game

Throwing things has always been an activity that I try to discourage indoors but I have found it impossible to eliminate.  Long ago I decided to give the children a throwing activity that could be done indoors and still be safe for the children and the contents of my home.

I bought brightly coloured plastic pot scrubbers from the dollar store.  Their texture is interesting and they are round like a ball but because they are soft and lightweight they do little damage to people and property.  To make this activity more that just a physical challenge I also purchased some brightly coloured baskets.  I encourage the children to throw the scrubbers into the basket that most closely matches the colour of the pot scrubber that they are tossing.

I’ve brought this game out several times this month;

I usually let the children decide where to place the baskets.  If necessary I will offer some assistance in determining places that allow enough distance between the ‘standing’ spot and the targets.

I discourage competition between the children but they can ‘keep score’ if they want to compare the progress they make from one turn to the next.

Recently the children have been adding some new aspects to the game like juggling the ‘balls’ before they throw them.  Often this works a little like shuffling cards – it adds a bit more ‘chance’ to the outcome;

Seriously, I need a better camera or improved reaction time or something – these pictures just don’t capture what the children are actually doing.

I was a little apprehensive when one of the children suggested ‘tossing the basket’ but I let him show me what he meant.  He demonstrated a technique that was similar to a chef tossing food in a frying pan;

It actually took a fair amount of force to get those scrubbers airborne – and an enormous effort to ensure the landed back in the basket.

So many activities from simple everyday items – enhancing child development through play.

That’s Not a Christmas Tree

I used to do a lot of decorating for Christmas.  I hung garland and swags on railings and door frames.  I put decorations on every available space on walls and shelves.  There were lights for all the windows.  My children helped me decorate our tree – we had more ornaments than we could possibly fit on the six foot tall tree.  I put the tree on a two foot tall table so the top of the tree touched the ceiling and there was plenty of room for plenty of gifts underneath.

I began all this decorating on the first day of December and took it all down on Boxing Day.  I felt it was a lot of work – it was something that I considered a duty not something that I actually enjoyed.  Some other members of my family would occasionally agree to help but I found out that they only did it because they thought it was important to me.  Huh?  I only decorated for them.

As my children got older I decorated less.  We bought a four foot tree and later I recycled the old six foot tree as part of the nature area in the playroom.  It was still difficult to persuade anyone to help me decorate the four foot tree and no matter where I put it it always seemed to be in someone’s way.

I got a two foot tall tree – I selected all the smallest ornaments and only decorated the tree once.  On Boxing Day I put the still decorated tree in a box and tossed it in the attic to wait for next year. It took just minutes to get it down, plop it on the table and fluff it up a bit.

This year I forgot to get the tree down at the beginning of December.  Maybe it was the warmer weather and lack of snow but I didn’t even think about decorating until it was almost the middle of December.  I put up my winter village – it stays in the window until spring.  I didn’t bother getting the tree from the attic.  I didn’t even put the window clings on the windows.  Nobody seemed to notice though.

Then last week one of the daycare children asked ‘Hey Cheryl, where’s your Christmas tree?’  I was going to tell them it was in the attic but instead I said, ‘It’s in the nature area’. There was silence as the children looked at each other – they seem puzzled.

There is no Christmas tree in the nature area.’ one of them said.  I pointed at the pine tree in the corner;

That’s not a Christmas tree’ they said in unison.

Why not?’  I asked

It has no decorations.’ They replied.

‘We could decorate it,’ I suggested, ‘but my decorations are in the attic so we’ll have to make some.’  I had seen a Christmas decoration craft over at The Crafty Crow that I thought would be suitable for all the children – and I had some sparkly poster board that would work for this purpose.

I gathered some supplies and started cutting out the circles and some pieces of yarn.

The preschoolers were most interested in the scraps that were left over after I cut out the circles.

The cats liked them too.

We got busy making decorations.  Everyone had their preferred method.  There were intricate designs with multiple colors and simple designs that had really long loops for hanging.  Some children spent a lot of time on each ornament and insisted that each one they made was different from every other one.  There was one child who mass produced a dozen identical ornaments in less than 15 minutes!

We hung all the completed ornaments on the tree;

There was still plenty of room on the tree and enough supplies to make many more ornaments so I’ve left the tray out in the sun room.  Each day there are some more ornaments to add to the tree.

Now we have a Christmas tree.  It’s ours and we love it.  There are no Christmas tree rules – each tree is special and unique.  Small or large, exquisite or plain, artificial or real, traditional or unconventional; it’s your tree – you decide.

Go check out some of these interesting Christmas tree creations

The Christmas Gift

When I signed on for the Post-a-Week 2011 challenge I also began following their daily posts for topic ideas and inspiration.  Many of their suggestions for post topics have been very interesting – some I thought would be fun to answer.  Others like the one from October 2ndIf You Could Change How Schools Work….’ I would have loved to answer but they would have taken a huge amount of time and probably a whole series of posts.  Generally though, I have enough ideas for post topics that I don’t need any more suggestions.

The suggestion from December 11th was one that I couldn’t ignore.  They asked ‘What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?’ I immediately knew my answer to this question.  There was no deliberation, reflection, or consideration.  For me the answer was instantaneous.

I didn’t have time to write that day but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I was out shopping for most of the day.  I noticed the items in other carts.  Were these things gifts for others?  Would the recipient think it was the best gift they had ever received?  If so, for how long would the item remain at the top of their list?

I suppose the answer would depend on the recipient’s definition of ‘best’.  Whether the gift was something they desperately needed, had the hottest new technology, or something they considered to be special in some other way. For me the gift that came to mind was not the ‘biggest’ gift or the ‘most expensive’.  The item itself was not particularly rare or unique.  I did not receive this gift from someone who was a prominent part of my life.  However, this gift is the one that I consider the most memorable and it has remained so for more than 40 years.

First, I should start with a little background.  As a child I was extremely withdrawn.  I rarely spoke to anyone – especially not unfamiliar people.  Visiting the homes of family or friends I would sometimes disappear behind the couch or some other large piece of furniture and not come out until my mother announced that it was time to leave. In school I was frequently paralyzed with fear when called on in class – unable to do anything except stare blankly at the teacher.

My father was in the military and when I was 7 years old our family moved to Germany.  Not knowing the language seemed to make my silence a much more acceptable behaviour. We lived in a small town about 20 miles from the air force base.  Our family was befriended by a German family who showed us all the local attractions and taught us about their culture.

As Christmas approached there were many ‘new’ traditions for us to experience.  The decorations are what I remember the most.  One day when we went to visit our German friends there was a Nativity scene set up on a table in their living room. I was immediately drawn to it and spent the remainder of the visit sitting on the floor by the table.  I examined it from every angle mesmerised by the intricate details.

As I gently touched the figurines I remember thinking of all the painstaking work that must have gone into carving each piece.  I’m not really sure if I was ever told that it had been hand made but that was what I envisioned.  I never picked up any one of the pieces – I couldn’t imagine disturbing any part of it.  Everything was so perfectly arranged I was certain that moving a piece would disrupt the entire scene.  Each time we visited our friends’ home I went to the table and stayed there until it was time to leave.

Traditionally our family opened gifts on Christmas morning but our friends’ gift exchange was held on Christmas Eve.  They invited us to attend their evening celebration which began with an outdoor event — some sort of parade or march through the streets of town.  Those details are unclear, it was so long ago.  Afterwards, we returned to their home for the remainder of the evening.

As we gathered in their living room I took my customary place by the Nativity scene, but something was different.  Beside the familiar display there was another table.  On it there was a second Nativity scene – smaller and simpler but still stunning.

As I sat there comparing the two I was vaguely aware that someone was speaking.  I looked up to see our host standing in the doorway.  He smiled at me and said something but I couldn’t understand the foreign words.  I looked at my mother for translation and she said “He’s telling you that that smaller one is yours to keep”.

I still have those figurines.  The original stable I’ve had to replace, it did not survive so many years of moving and storage.  Each Christmas I set it up and remember the day I received it so long ago.  A small gift given to a child who tried so hard not to be noticed – but was.

Sculptures

We often use play dough as a sensory play activity.  As they explore through touch — squeezing and squishing, rolling and cutting – they enhance fine motor skills too. With the addition of food coloring and spices the dough can excite the sight and smell senses also.  Of course there is always at least one child who insists on tasting.

When I make a new batch of play dough I divide it up into individual portions and put them in sandwich bags. The sandwich bags are then placed in a container and stored in the refrigerator until we want to use it.  I love watching the expressions on the children’s faces when they eagerly grab their ball of play dough and then quickly drop it back on the tray.

“Ooooh, it’s so cold!”  Feeling the change in temperature and texture as they work the dough adds a little science to the activity.

Using this storage method the play dough lasts much longer than if it was left at room temperature but it still doesn’t last forever.  Inevitably the dough will begin to loose its usefulness I need to make more.  The new batch will have different characteristics – maybe even some glitter or sand.

When I saw this activity over at Nurturing Young Minds I thought it would be a terrific way to extend the interest the children had shown for following the animal tracks in the snow outside.  I still had the ‘pumpkin spice’ dough we had been using but I didn’t think it would be a good substitute for snow.  Instead of just tossing it out I decided to let the children make some sculptures that they could take home.

I introduced the activity to the younger children in the morning when the older ones were in school.  They were thrilled to cut and shape the familiar dough but initially left the decorations untouched.  I think they may have been unsure about adding ‘stuff’ to the dough because usually I throw out the dough when it gets ‘dirty’.

I took some dough and supplies and made my own little sculpture as an example.  Tentatively they started making their own creations.

I left them to enjoy their creative process while I gave the baby his bottle.  I observed them from a distance as they made sculptures and then carefully separated all the ‘stuff’ from the dough and then made something new.

This process kept them engaged for over an hour! They seemed unconcerned about their lack of any ‘product’.  When I said it was nearly time to clean up for lunch that they hastily added a few loose bits to their ball of dough and placed it on the tray to dry.

The older children got their turn with this activity during quiet time in the afternoon when the little ones were napping.  They immediately dove in, rolled out their dough and stuck on some decorations – a process that lasted less than five minutes.  Then they moved on to other quiet time activities.

We’ve been watching the sculptures dry — checking daily to see if they are firm enough to pick up.  Today they will take them home.

For some it was all about the process and for others it was the product.

Snow Starved

The children want snow.  There was snow in the forecast for last weekend but it produced little more than a light dusting on the deck. On Monday when we went out to play the children tried to pick up some of the light fluffy flakes — it was nearly impossible.

They need more snow.  They long to dig in snow and explore.  They yearn to jump into piles of snow.  They dream of building stuff with snow.  The little bit of snow that is in the yard has been trampled down and compacted to the point where it is really just a hard coating of ice on the ground.

The children play tag.  They enjoy tag but they want to do more.  Tag is becoming mundane.  We’ve tried adding some new movements and characters to the tag game.  Things like animals stalking prey or bumper cars but it is still just another version of tag.

We reminisce about the last time there was new snow.  They were so excited.  Look what we found!

“I think those are Mindy’s” (dog tracks).

“Hey I found some more over here in the garden.  These ones are too small to be Mindy’s – maybe there was a rabbit looking for food”.

Those don’t look like rabbit tracks – it was probably a cat.  Let’s follow them and see where they go.

They tried so hard not to step on the tracks.  They examined the imprints that they made with their own boots.  That seems so long ago — almost an eternity in preschool years.

Let it snow – please….