Category Archives: Actve Play

Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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Indoor Activity

Walk!

I am certain that if I recorded all the things I say to the children in a day and then tallied up how often I repeat phrases ‘walk’ would top the list.  A distant second would be ‘stop’ followed closely by ‘down’.  All my most common instructions pertain to redirecting activity level.

The list would of course be far different if I made separate lists for ‘outdoor’ phrases and ‘indoor’ phrases.  Only when we are indoors is there a need to restrict the children’s running, jumping and climbing.  It is not the activity that is wrong – it is the activity within a small, confined space with many other people.

Yet, children need to engage in gross motor activities.  During our long cold winters we do go outside every day but the length of time we spend outside is often not enough for the children to release all their pent up energy.  So, I try to provide alternate gross motor activities that are more appropriate for indoors.

When I removed the loft stairs the music area became larger – more room for dancing 🙂 Dancing is one of the children’s favourite forms of indoor active play and something they often initiate.  There are also some other features I incorporated in the room to encourage movement;

15-02-indoor00The step up to the nature area is a natural ‘speed bump’ and a great place to practice stepping – or jumping – up and down, on and off.  The pipes are mounted high at the entrance to the block area to encourage stretching to drop toys through the pipes and bending to enter the block area.  We do more bending and stretching by practicing yoga poses – another favourite activity that the children will often initiate.

Crawling is also encouraged – it is such a wonderful full body gross motor activity. It is generally much slower than other types of movement and because the children are down on the floor falling is rarely an issue.  The children will often crawl during dramatic play activities when they pretend to be various animals.  Sometimes we set up the tents and tunnels to promote even more crawling;

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Recently we’ve had the spinners out in the playroom.  These require an impressive amount of balance to remain upright as you stand and spin.  The younger children always use the spinners near a wall or shelf so they have something to hang on to as they spin in circles;

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Currently we have the foam hop scotch puzzle on the floor. The squares provide boundaries for hopping or jumping – the difference between hopping and jumping is described here.  Using the squares to define the hopping area provides a ‘safe’ zone for those who are not engaging in the activity – they can walk around the mat to avoid being involved in a collision.

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I may have to restrict some types of active play indoors because I don’t have an appropriate gym space but that doesn’t mean I have to eliminate it completely.  We still much prefer to be outdoors but when we’re stuck indoors we don’t have to remain sedentary.

Baby Steps

I know the phrase…“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”  I firmly believe that the children and I should be outside every day in all types of weather.  However, yesterday was one of those difficult days.

Sun, rain, snow, and slush.  Mother Nature just couldn’t make up her mind.  The worst part though was the temperature – not bitterly cold but definitely chilly.  A snow suit would have been far too warm but fall jackets were not really warm enough especially when they got wet.

It’s days like that when I take the children for a walk.  Certainly they would prefer to play in the yard but invariably at least one of them would roll around on the ground and get soaked and we would all have to come inside.  So, we walk.  We go outside and we keep moving.

Now, I face another obstacle – two toddlers.  Both the one-year-olds are capable of hiking around the block when they’re holding my hand.  The problem is that the older preschoolers find the toddler pace very slow.  With the toddlers tiny strides it takes about 40 minutes for us to get around the block – and the older children spend about 30 of those minutes just waiting for the toddlers and I  to catch up.

Some people might put the toddlers in a stroller or a wagon and head out for a longer walk – but I won’t.  We’re going for a walk, not a ride. Our outdoor time is the perfect opportunity for gross motor activities for all of us including the toddlers.

So, I started a game.  I instructed the older children to run ahead four sidewalk squares and turn around and run back to me.  It took a few tries for them to get the hang of it – we discovered that it was easier if they counted ‘lines’ (sidewalk cracks) instead of squares.

Then I increased the goal to ‘six lines’ ahead and then back to us.  The older children stomped on each line as they counted to six and then turned around and ran back.  Then they tried jumping from one line to the next before running back.  Sometimes they bent down and touched the line with their hands – so much exercise 🙂

One of the children asked if they could do ten squares next but first we tried just eight.  We all counted together as they passed each line before turning around to run back.  They came up with some interesting challenges like spinning around on each line.

Just past the half way point walk we increased the distance to ten sidewalk squares but only one of the preschoolers was still playing.  The other one was walking slowly with me and the toddlers – ‘too tired’ to keep playing the game.

One square city block on a cold and wet day and plenty of gross motor activity.

Tag

Tag is one of the most popular outdoor activities here.  Hardly a day goes by without at least one game of tag.  The problem with tag is the size of my yard.  The total playspace is just 20 feet by 30 feet and most of that is filled with obstacles.  The largest open area is just 10 feet by 10 feet.

The youngest children in the group have no problem with the space restrictions when the older children are not here.  For them the game is mostly about running around laughing and having fun.  The older ones tend to be more competative and manipulative – often reckless in their attempt to ensure victory.

Although we have gone to the park to play tag in a bigger space they still like to play tag here too.  With our limited space and the vast difference in the childrens’ physical size the game is unfair.

To level the playing field we tried something different.  Instead of running, all the players must keep both feet together and hop;

We’ve also added a rule about using only one finger to tag in order to combat the problem with punching or slapping instead of tagging.  A couple of the children don’t like this rule claiming ‘it hurts their finger to tag like that’ — those that are being tagged like it much better.

The children have also created a game they call ‘Quiet Tag’.  In this version the child who is it stands still in the middle of the walkway with their eyes closed.  The other children try to get sneak from one end of the walkway to the other and back without getting tagged.

You have to be really quiet when you pass by because if ‘It’ hears you they can easily reach out and tag you. Those who get tagged are added to It’s team until there is only one person left trying to sneak by several ‘Its’ standing on the walkway.

Tag is definitely their favorite game.

Motabular

It began as a conversation through the tunnel – something they have enjoyed often in the past.  In fact, this first picture was taken last year when they were all a little smaller and ‘fit’ on the bridge;

Now they are taller so they hang further off the edge and sometimes even rest their hands or heads on the gravel below.  Then one day a few weeks ago the four-year-old held onto the underside of the bridge and then brought his legs up and over until he flipped over off the bridge.  It was like a slow motion summersault except he never let go of the bridge and he landed on his feet.  The entire movement was controlled and precise.  I was impressed and judging by the response from the other children, they were too.

The five-year-old announced that it had been the ‘most amazing motabular’ that she had ever seen.  The name stuck and for weeks since then ‘doing motabulars’ has been a popular activity for these preschoolers. None of the other children have been able to master holding the bridge while completing the flip like this;

Some have modified the feat to fit their own comfort level – taking acceptable risk – understanding their physical abilities.  They rest their hands on the ground and then roll forward and bring their legs off the bridge and into the gravel.

One day the four-year-old announced his satisfaction with the ‘motacular’ that he had just done. The others stopped what they were doing and asked “What is a motacular?”  He replied that it was “A spectacular motabular”.  Love it!

The girl had successfully completed several motabulars but much preferred the role of ‘judge’ – rating the completion of each motabular.  This annoyed the oldest child in the group – the only one who had never yet been able to complete the ‘flip’ part.  Sometimes he would roll sideways off the bridge and down the slope of the hill.  Other times he would walk forward on his hands and then pull his knees up and drop down to the gravel without ever turning over.

Each time he received an ‘Almost’ or ‘Not quite’ rating from the judge. “Put your hands closer to the hill” the others said “You can’t flip when you are that far away” They were trying to be helpful but it just aggravated the situation. “Motabulars are STUPID! He shouted as he stomped away.  He refused to try again.

Every time the others practiced their motabulars he would sit and pout – muttering about how dumb that activity was.  Sometimes he’d try to start a game of tag or a building project – anything to get the others to stop doing motabulars.  But they didn’t stop.

One day ‘the judge’ was absent. As soon as we went outside the younger two boys started doing motabulars.  The older one stood close by and watched.  After the others had several turns he made his first attempt of the day.  He adjusted his stance a few times before crawling down without rolling.  He tried to create some different poses and movements to entice the others to do something different.  He tried again to do a motabular;

This time he attempted a roll but went sideways instead of over.  He was visibly frustrated.  He criticized his own roll, talking out loud to himself, trying to make sense of what he was doing wrong.  No one else said anything – no one made any type of judgement – and he went back to try again.  He was persistent.  After another failed attempt he spent some time again watching the others very closely;

Asking for and getting advice and assistance when he wanted it;

Then it happened;

He rejoiced – strutting around the yard singing a new song. “Motabulars are awesome. Motabulars are great.  I can do motabulars!”  He continued to do more and more of them for the rest of the day.

Interestingly he hasn’t done one since the judge came back.  In fact, he hasn’t tried to do one when she is near.  He has made a few attempts when she is busy elsewhere but he is obviously concerned that she may notice.  He quietly talks to himself, analyzing the situation, fully aware of where she is and what she is doing.  Not trying in case she notices when he fails.

That is the power of grades and rewards.  They destroy the intrinsic motivation and the perseverance.  They put the emphasis on someone else’s evaluation of the outcome intead of the effort it takes to try and fail and try again.  Even when the reward is meant to be an encouragement it is ultimately still a judgement.

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.

Balance

It was two years ago that we took down the playstructure in the yard to make room for a more natural playspace.  As usual with any of my projects, we reuse or recycle as much as possible.

The 4 x 4 posts that  had provided the main support for the playstructure were big and bulky so at first I just left them in the gravel area of the yard.  The children loved them; they walked on them, sat on them, drove cars on them and so much more.

As work on the new playspace continued the 4 x 4’s got moved around often to get them out of the way but they never got removed from the yard.  Why would I ever take away a piece of play equipment that was so popular?  I’m certain the children would have objected.

The problem was that there simply wasn’t enough room to keep them in the gravel area once we brought in all the new stuff.  So, I moved them onto the deck and that is where they remain.

Several years later they continue to be popular.  Last week the 3 and 4 year olds spent all morning on the beams.  They walked up, across, and down;

They also did it in reverse — the photo doesn’t really capture it well but he is walking backwards along the beam;

They crawled too — they like to pretend to be cats;

And this method — on hands and feet — proved to be the most difficult of all;

They were so persistent.  I’m glad we kept those 4 x 4’s.  In fact, when they get too old I’m certain I will buy more to replace them.  I think everyone should have a few in their yard. 🙂