Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Waffle Blocks

There is not nearly enough space in the playroom for all the toys I own so the majority are stored in bins in the basement.  Puppets, blocks and animals are sorted into groupings of similar items so it is easier for me to select the ones I want to bring out when I rotate toys. I have a spreadsheet which helps me keep track of when toys are added to or removed from the playroom.

I usually manage to get every toy into the playroom for at least a few weeks each year – more often if the children have favourites or request a specific toy.  Occasionally there are toys that don’t get brought out because they are not developmentally appropriate or interesting for the children enrolled at the time.

Last month when I put the castle blocks and the puzzle people back into storage I brought out the stacking cups and Waffle Blocks instead.  One by one as the children arrived and entered the playroom I heard “Ooooh, what are those!?” or similar comments.  I was a little confused as these are old toys so I checked the spreadsheet again an realized that it had been more than two years since the last time the Waffle Blocks were out!

This group of preschoolers really enjoyed the Waffle Blocks – they played with them almost exclusively during the entire five week period of time these blocks were in the playroom.  I liked that there was a lot of cooperation and creativity when they played with these blocks.

In the past I’ve had some groups that found these blocks boring – making nothing more than a cube or two and maybe adding a roof.  Other children have had difficulty forming the  cubes ‘properly’ and easily became frustrated, constantly asking for assistance.  I’m not concerned about ‘proper’ cubes so I tend to let them figure it out.

It is somewhat difficult to make weapons out of Waffle blocks which may have forced this group to expand their interests a little more.  Also, because I don’t have a lot of these blocks, if they want to make something BIG they have to work together on one structure.  I’ve considered getting more Waffle blocks but then I watch the children problem solve ‘not enough blocks’ and think maybe less is better.

I was particularly impressed by the architecture involved in this  creation;

Waffle blocks have never been one of my personal favorite construction toys but I was definitely pleased with what this group of preschoolers managed to do with them.

The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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Indoor Space

My list of summer renovation projects was two pages long – more than 3/4 of the items have already been completed 🙂 Revamping the outdoor space (see previous post) was the largest project.  Many of the indoor projects just involved sorting and reorganizing stuff but that takes time.

Of course there were some storage units that had to be re-built to fit in different locations but no ‘new’ pieces were necessary.  In fact, a horizontal storage unit became a vertical unit and the items in two other units were consolidated into one so we actually gained a fair amount of extra floor space – bonus!

Much of the work was done to areas that are off-limits to the children so they are completely unaware of the  changes but I am certainly pleased with the results.  When you’ve only got 1200 sq ft to work with and you want to make it usable for a dozen people every little bit helps.

I felt there were several issues with the arrangement of the playroom and I definitely wanted to address at least some of them.  First, this was the old storage space for the workshop tools and musical instruments;

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The problem I had here is that the floor space allocated for constructive play and music activities was just 6o square feet. When most of the toys are stored on one shelf unit on the longest wall the play space becomes a very narrow rectangle.  I wanted to make two smaller storage spaces – one at each end of the long, narrow space which would result in a more usable almost square play space. So, the above corner now looks like this;

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Just the tools, puzzles and stuffed animals are stored here now.  The musical instruments are stored separately on the other end of the play space;

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There used to be a basket of old phones, remotes, and walkie talkies in the space under the cash register.  The children often dumped everything out of the basket when looking for a specific item but no one liked to pick up all the leftovers.  Now the items are stored like this instead;

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This is my new view of the playroom from my desk if I was ever inclined to sit down to do any paperwork;

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And this is as close as I can get to showing the entire playroom in one photo;

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Housekeeping, dress-up, library and quiet corner on the left, entrance to nature area on far wall, blocks, tools and music on right side.

I’m not particularly fond of the way all the housekeeping toys are currently stored – some items are too high for the children to easily reach. I can’t complain if children climb when I’m the one who put things they are allowed to play with on a shelf that is too high.  Reorganizing that storage space is one of the not-yet-completed items on my list.  I am still not certain how to address all the issues there so until I’ve devised an acceptable plan it will have to stay as is.  Sigh.

Castle Blocks

A few years ago I bought some sets of Castle Blocks from Quality Classrooms. Like all the various types of blocks I have they are rotated in and out of our play space depending on the interests of the children in my care.

My current group of children has enjoyed building with these blocks for several weeks now.  They particularly like to design and build impressive towers.

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I enjoy watching the cooperation when the children agree to work together on a building project;

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However, they have encountered a bit of a problem – the baby of the group gets so excited when he sees a tower that he can’t resist knocking it down.  He does immediately attempt to help rebuild the towers but the original builders are still very disappointed by the destruction.

One of the solutions that the children have come up with is to only build towers when the baby is not in the room.  Although effective, this strategy also severely limits the block building time.  Then one day, while the baby was playing in the room, I observed the three-year-old building this;

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I asked him to tell me about his creation.  He said “It’s a tower – that the baby can’t knock down.”  Hmmm, very interesting.  These horizontal towers have become quite popular and can be built all day long without any issues.

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Nice problem solving 🙂

 

The Squeaky Door

It was back in December that I rearranged the play space again.   When I looked back at that post I realized that I mainly wrote about the history of the loft and the reason for the changes.  The post was getting too long so I didn’t include pictures of the finished space.  I will have to do a full post about that soon but right now I want to focus on one small area.

The refrigerator in the housekeeping area;

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The new block bin is now located on the right hand side of the refrigerator – this is where the entrance to the block area used to be.  The counter top above the block bin is centered over the block bin and overhangs the bin by several inches on both sides.  This was an intentional design feature.

Due to the placement of the counter top the right hand door of the refrigerator only opens part way before it touches the counter top.  The left hand door opens a full 180 degrees.  I didn’t think it was a major issue so I didn’t correct it then.  Months later the problem is getting worse instead of better.

Even though the food in the refrigerator is easily accessible when the right hand door is only partially open the toddlers insist on pushing on the door to force it to open fully.  Since it is physically impossible for the door to open that far all they manage to do is get the door jammed so tightly against the counter top that they can then not close it.  Meltdowns ensue.

The hinges on the right hand door had also begun to squeak.  Some of the children like to move this door slowly back & forth simply because they like the sound.  I do not like that sound – especially not for a solid 20 minute stretch of time.

Last Friday was an school inservice day which meant I had the older children here for the whole day.  It also meant that my school-bus-driver husband was home for the day too.  So, as the children and I were getting ready to go outside to play I said to my husband “We will be outside for the next 2 hours.  While we are gone please unhook the brackets holding the counter top and move it an inch to the North.  Also, grease the fridge door hinge.”

For the second half of Friday and all of Monday I have silently watched and waited.  Only one of the two-year-olds has noticed the change.  On several occasions he has stood by the refrigerator and slowly moved the right hand door all the way open and then all the way closed.  Sometimes he stands in the space behind the door so he can watch the hinge action from a different point of view.  I’ve been observing him as closely as he is observing the door.

The other children either don’t notice or don’t care that the door doesn’t stick or squeak any more.  I notice, thank-you very much.

Ponies!

I was doing some Christmas shopping at Costco when I saw them – ponies!  Actually, the label says ‘rocking horse’ but I like to call them ponies – I bought two.  They were not on my shopping list but I couldn’t resist – they were only $20 each!

Now I will admit they ticked a few boxes on my ‘I don’t like’ list.

  • They were fairly large toys and I have a limited amount of space.
  • They have batteries and make noise.  I prefer ‘use your imagination’ toys over ’cause and effect’ toys.
  • They have some limitation for age/size of children which may cause frustration for the children and me.

But they were so cute I just couldn’t resist.  I bought two because one would definitely not be enough but I don’t have space for a whole herd. Look at them, pictured here with some of my Ikea stuffies;

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I debated about introducing the new toys during the Christmas break when there were fewer children here but I decided to wait until everyone returned.  That way all the children could make discoveries together instead of the returning children being ‘instructed’ by the ones who had already had two weeks with the new toys.  Besides, there was something I had to do to the ponies first…

I had to put stops on them so they wouldn’t rock.

I know, some of you are thinking ‘Why do you want rocking horses that don’t rock?’  The answer to that is fairly simple, hence the name change – I wanted ‘ponies’ not ‘rocking horses’.  After my ‘Ooooh, they’re so cute!’ reaction my next thought was how many little toes would be squished under the moving base.

So on Monday the children got to meet our new, non-rocking ponies.  The early arrivals were thrilled.  After nearly an hour of pony play they still hadn’t yet discovered the sound/action buttons – so I showed them.  When you squeeze the pony’s ear you hear neighs and galloping hooves and the pony’s mouth opens and closes and his tail wags.

The children each tried the button once and then went back to their original – before my interruption – quiet pony play.  The third child to arrive was also more interested in the ponies than the pony noise/action.  It was a different story once children four and five arrived.  These two refuse to allow the ponies to be silent – ever!

Even when they are not playing with the ponies, if the noise stops they drop whatever they are playing with and run over to press the button again. For me, this is the biggest problem with the battery operated aspect of these and other similar toys. They don’t enhance the play value of the toy – they prevent the children from fully engaging in play.  They are a distraction.

I usually remove the batteries from new toys before I introduce them to the play space.  The lack of batteries isn’t missed if they didn’t know it existed.  Occasionally I leave batteries in toys – like I did with the ponies.  However, I rarely replace them when they die.  The pony noises are definitely not a benefit but I do like the pony actions.  In fact, feeding the ponies is one of the children’s favourite activities;

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Sure, the children could pretend to feed the ponies even if the pony’s mouth didn’t open and close but there is an incredible amount of cooperation and problem solving as the children work together to find items that fit in the pony’s mouth and stay there as he ‘chews’.

The saddle stirrups have caused some problems – rider’s feet sometimes get stuck in them making a safe dismount difficult.  I’ve tucked the stirrups up under the saddle but I’ll probably end up cutting them off completely.

The other issue we’ve had with the ponies comes after daycare closes and it is dark and quiet in the playroom.  That is when hunter cat stalks her prey – and ponies are one of her favourites.  So, when play is done for the day the ponies are safely stabled like this;

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Everybody loves ponies.

Back At It

It has been a busy week.  I have several posts I’d like to write but no time to do so.  Today I’ll just post a few pictures of some of the things I’ve observed as the children are settling back in after the holidays.

There was this interesting use for a ‘drill’;

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Look familiar?

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I have no idea why but this has been the favorite ‘accessory’ for several days;

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This was an ‘orphanage’;

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This child arranged the bells to play some music and did some colour matching too;

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I loved watching the infants/toddlers solve this problem;

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Actually, you can’t see it from here – and they couldn’t either which was what the problem was.  The picture above was taken from the open side of the block bin.  The back side has a clear plastic panel which allows the children to see through to the music area but prevents the blocks from falling on the floor where others may be dancing.

There was one little carpet square that had slipped into the space between the bin frame and the plastic panel.  The toddlers could only see it when they were in the music area;

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It wasn’t stuck but when they noticed it from the music area they would go around to the block area to ‘fix’ it but from the open side of the bin then they couldn’t see the stray piece of carpet.  On and off for two days they contemplated how to get this piece of carpet.

They’ve fixed it now.  I could have done it for them or shown them how but letting them work it out on their own was better – developing problem solving skills and learning to cooperate with others.