Peekaboo and Bilateral Integration…

About a month ago our little princess took adorable to a whole new level when she discovered how to initiate games of peekaboo with us.  At any given moment, she has a very ready audience!  We are all mesmerized with the ginormous changes babies go through.  I know all to well how quickly these tiny phases come and go.

It never ceases to delight and amaze me, especially as a biology junkie. I know how much this indicates wiring going on in the brain.  She is actively learning and all of her increased mobility is not only an indication of brain growth, but also the means for wiring her brain to grow and learn more!  I think it is so cool that as our brain grows and matures, we are capable of more intricate movement.  And that at the same time, this movement is further wiring the brain to work more efficiently.  I stand in complete awe at God’s creative power as I think about how He’s at work not just with what we can see, but the unseen.

We’ve also done things a little differently with this fourth baby of ours.   I’ve embraced more fully the concept of baby initiated movement.   {I’m not sure if there’s an official name for it out there, but this is what I’m calling it.}  I knew that items like jumparoos and exercausers are bad for their spinal development, but didn’t realize that even holding baby in a standing position in our laps could have a similar effect.  When I took Greta in to see a chiropractor at 4 months that was the first thing he talked to me about.  I was completely shocked.  But when he went into explaining why, he got me at the term – bilateral integration.  This mama KNOWS all about bilateral integration.  It’s as if he knew that I’d be speaking on that very topic in a few short months.

Bilateral integration is the ability of the left and right hemisphere’s of the brain to communicate and work together for smooth, coordinated movement and thought processing.  Chiropractors, Occupational and Physical Therapists all are noticing a connecting trend between early walkers or those that skip the crawling stage with an increase of integration issues.  Eeek.  Bilateral integration is so critical for success in reading, writing, comprehension and creativity.  Activities like crawling, skipping, brachiating on the monkey bars, etc all serve to help increase those important neural connections between the left and right hemisphere of the brain.

So it got me pondering and having to work hard to break myself of the habit of standing Greta up in my lap.  It is hard to stop doing what has become second nature. And then I continued down that road and skipped trying to ‘help’ her sit up as I had done with my first two kids.  Trey crawled so early, it was impossible to get him to sit…

If you have been around here a while, you know well that I’m a big advocate of having this kind of approach in the area of cognitive development in the early years.  I advocate free play and hands-on, interactive learning in the early years instead of trying to rush toddlers and preschoolers into academic pursuits that their brains simply aren’t wired for yet…  But honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me to have the same approach in motor development.  With my two older boys I trained them to sit.  I was the parent that held their hands and walked lap after lap around the house ‘helping’ them learn how to walk.  Because by this point that is what they wanted to do, even if they didn’t have the motor strength and coordination to do it quite yet.  This time around, I’m trying to retrain myself and let Greta move and try new things completely on her own by giving her ample time on the ground.  I must say it is so exciting to watch her hit those milestones all on her own!

I found Dr. Emmi Pikler’s thoughts on child-initiated movement to be thought provoking,

“The learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to do something independently, through patient and persistent effort. While learning during motor development to turn on his belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand, and walk, he is not only learning those movements, but also *how to learn*. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction that is derived from his success, the result of his patience and persistence.”

Yet again, we see the interplay between movement and learning – even in the tiniest members of our family!

This is just one of the many things we’ve been doing differently this time around.  Did any of you find that you tweaked things as you went along and learned new things?
Related articles that I found interesting and thought provoking on this topic:

Of Pediatricians and Patriots

Of Pediatricians and Patriots: How a sensory and literature rich approach to education can make a difference.

We are knee deep in the middle of our nations fight for independence and the boys couldn’t be happier.  Last fall I picked up two pirate costumes at our PE groups clothing swap.  The red velvet jackets with gold braid are a favorite item being worn these days despite the temperatures approaching 100.  Our only two patriot ‘coats’ are a blue police jacket and my grandmother’s cardigan that has really cool engraved pewter buttons.  Buttons aside, the boys think it is a pretty boring stand-in.  But it has provided an opportunity for the them to realize the benefits of being a soldier of the king verses a patriot in a poor fledgling nation.

As we read about these men that made so many valiant sacrifices, they have also been drawn to the beautiful rhetoric.  Their ability to memorize, when motivated, never ceases to amaze me.

Recently, I took Treyton in for his 4 year old well-check.  This new pediatrician is especially thorough and started asking me all kinds of questions about his development.  As she started to ask about his knowledge of the 1,2,3’s and A,B,C’s I realized that I had come to the point, where I hadn’t really thought about it.  I nodded, indicating that he knew most of what she was asking about, but than explained a bit of my philosophy.

Skills like this come surprisingly easily in a home where there is a lot of interaction.  As I dole out a snack, he learned pretty quick how important it was to count.  Counting wasn’t merely something he memorized to please someone.  There was a lot riding on his understanding of 1-to-1 correspondence.  He could immediately spot that he only received 10 blueberries while his brothers had each snagged 20.

And don’t get me started on the ABC’s.  I mean really, what academic advantage does a child have if he can sing the ABC song?  Until he is ready to start alphabetizing, not much.  Now phonemic SOUNDS…  That is a whole different story.

As I sat there in my pediatricians office, I started to share with her the value in learning ABOUT things instead of merely memorizing and acquiring skills.  One of my goals in the early years is to nurture that natural curiosity and insatiable desire to explore the world around them.  Stoking the fire of inborn curiosity and protecting that natural love of learning is so crucial at this age.

For some reason our culture seems fixated on skill acquisition as if memorizing numbers from 1 to 20 (or 50 or 100) somehow indicates ‘giftedness’.  So much time is spent on trying to get kids reading or counting that could be utilized in far more effective and enjoyable ways.

I’m not sure how convinced she was, until I mentioned our current study of the Revolutionary War and how fascinated he is by it all.  He may or may not be able to recite his ABC’s in the correct order {I’ve never communicated that learning that was important}, but this kid of mine is soaking up so much.

I relayed how I was dialoging with my bigger boys, asking them which famous statesman from Virginia spoke these famous words,

“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take,
but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” 

Treyton was trotting by {in costume, of course} and before the boys had a chance to respond, he glibly responded, “Patrick Henwy”.

The pediatrician just sat staring.

Then I told her that he was currently really into the life of Paul Revere and the events surrounding the battle of Lexington/Concord.  At this point, Treyton piped up and told her about Captain John Parker and his courageous words to the militia on the Lexington Green that day.

Rest assured, while she might think us a bit odd {and I’m totally ok with that}, I don’t think she is worried about his academic development.

Skills will come.  In fact, he’s acquiring them without even realizing it.  More important is that his love of learning -that God has placed in each young child, is alive and well.

After re-enacting the battle at Lexington and the ‘shot heard round the world,’ Treyton wanted me to record the battle for his cousins and grandparents. He is incredibly proud of his make-shift bayonet (a bamboo skewer) and the boys are loving their ‘gun smoke’ that they’ve created by filling their popguns with dirt. After reviewing this clip however, I’ve realized that we need to work on explaining the reality of guns that fire only one shot before needing to be carefully reloaded…

Want to get a few key costume pieces or book ideas for your study of the American Revolution?  Check out my gift guide.

Gifts that Spark a Love of Learning about the Revolutionary War

Rainy Day Play

As the rain pitter-pattered down, I settled into a chair on the back porch with my hands wrapped around a mug of warm soup. My precious two-month old is napping inside.  Warm fills me while the wind nips at my arms, chilling them.  I slowly breath in the lovely smells that accompany a desert rain.
Meanwhile, boys race around the yard on {stick}horseback.  First they round up cattle and drive them to the train station.  Then they are off to the races – steeple chasing and coaxing other great stunts from their {stick}horses.  This is the last week of our horses unit and they are entranced with all that they have discovered.
It is a rainy day, a lazy day and yet always, always a learning day…
To live is to learn and they are busy at this work of learning – incorporating it into every aspect of their play, tapping into that creativity that God placed inside each one of them and honing their relational skills as they navigate working together.
Rainy days have a relaxing, calming effect on all of us.  Inside, the 5 year old pulls out our Global Twister map, the continent boxes and an assortment of other toys for some impromptu geography review.

Penguins take up residence in the antarctic regions, always on alert for predators like the leopard seal and the killer whale.

A discussion arose about the Liberty Bell which relocated from its original placement in western Canada to its rightful position in New England.

And Xander spent time studying his sister.

Apparently rain doesn’t have a calming effect on everyone because these moments were soon followed up with some conflict resolution training as the three year old came in and laid claim to half the toys…
Life is all a learning experience, isn’t it?!?

an impromptu lesson in physics

 What started out as a skip counting by two’s lesson for the 5 year old with the marbles quickly turned into exploration-playtime by all three boys…

I ran upstairs to put some things away and came down to find them full of giggles, wonder and excitement.

They had discovered the glories of centripetal force as they rapidly spun their marbles around in their army helmets…  Experiencing the REALITIES of centripetal force (or anything for that matter) makes the formal learning and understanding of these concepts so much easier down the road! 

Play and discovery learning at its best.  This was just what I needed to see today…  As the birth of our little girl approaches, the plan is to take a month off.  It is always nice to see that while I won’t be doing anything structured with them, learning is always taking place.

It is amazing what happens when the TV stays off and kids are given ample time and opportunity to explore and discover! 

And thankfully, I didn’t have to know much about the topic with them being this age…  I love biology and chemistry, but physics makes my head spin.  I’m hoping that my engineer baby sister will be available to step in and help me out when we get into some of the more in depth physics down the road. 

Making It Work: Promoting Open-Ended Play

Patriots going into battle.  Note the broken golf-club, hockey stick and broomstick that are all standing in as rifles…

Who needs play guns, anyways?  They’ll improvise!

So what now? It is hard to not end up with scripted toys. But I’ve found that this really doesn’t hinder a child when you are encouraging their creativity and budding imaginations!  With encouragement from you, your child can “make” his toys open ended by using them in ways that are “off-script”. Surprisingly, I think kids are pretty adept at this, but sometimes we as parents can fail to recognize it.  It has been so much fun to watch my boys improvise more and more as they’ve gotten older!

This drum of ours has been used for all kinds of things, including a knights shield…

My sons who have had a recent fascination with fire fighters, have been turning EVERYTHING in sight into something related to fighting fires.  The astronaut costume doubled as a fireman’s gear and they even pulled out our little astronaut figurines and pretended they were all firemen and played for almost an hour today with them…  With birthday’s coming up in a couple of weeks, Keegan asked if we could punch a hole in the ceiling and put in a pole because that would be a faster way to get downstairs. hahahaha.

(My Trey-man having his own little Toy Story experience…)
This reminds me of the opening scene in Toy Story where Andy has incorporated ALL of his toys in his imaginary play in some fashion or another…

May we as parents recognize and encourage such play in our own kids!  And then watch their creativity and imagination soar! 

[Open-Ended Play Series]

PART 1  ~ Free to Play
PART 2 ~ Sounds Easy Enough
PART 3 ~ Micro-Managing No More
PART 4 ~ Keep It Simple
PART 5 ~ Block Play: Building a Child’s Mind 
PART  6 ~ Playsilks: Inspiring Creativity
PART 7 ~ Open-Ended Costumes
PART 8 ~ Kitchen Play
PART 9 ~ From Trash to Treasure
PART 10 ~ Making It Work

From Trash to Treasure

(Xander at 3yo enjoying a homemade shield that he asked us to fashion from an egg carton and his lance from an old packing tube.)

As we’ve been talking about, encouraging our kids in open-ended play is a great way for them to learn at their own pace as well as develop important creative and critical thinking skills that will benefit them in so many academic areas later on. Another way that I’ve worked on modeling this creative thinking process to my kids is in encouraging them to use “trash” and convert it into toys. Depending on the nature of the item and how it is being used will determine how long it stays in my house, but needless to say, it has been fun to see what our family comes up with.

A simple google search on common items that end up in our trash cans such as cardboard tubes, packing material, egg cartons, etc will provide a rich source of inspiration for you. Need ideas? Check out this, this or this.  I’ve also enjoyed this blog that posts ideas on things to do with old tp rolls!!! 
To get started with free play, go on a house hunt for open-ended materials, including plastic caps, fabric, wire, cardboard boxes, blocks, paints, and clay. Try a nature walk where you can gather twigs, leaves, and feathers. The list is endless.
We love to go out for a nature walks and collect nature’s trash (leaves, flowers, sand) that is on the ground and made a wreath! The boys had so much fun doing this and now inspect what they find around them so much closer. They love to try and identify what tree or bush their little ‘treasure’ came from.
I’ve kept packages from food we’ve eaten and taped them shut so the boys could play store. They also ended up using the cardboard boxes as blocks. We had a week or so of fun with it and then it was placed in the trash for good!
A friend of mine noticed that her son was into cars and mechanic type stuff, so her hubby “created” this garage for him. It provided hours of entertainment not only for him, but for every friend that visited him for the next month or two.

What do you have lying around your home? Give it a second chance and turn it into something fun! The sky’s the limit!  I’d love to hear any creative ways you or your children have re-used ‘trash’ for creative play!!!

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 9]

PART 1     PART 2     PART 3    PART 4    PART 5   PART  6   PART 7  PART 8

Coming this weekend: Our PLAYSILK giveaway!!!!!  Stay tuned!

Kitchen Play

Well, as we start to wrap up this little series on open-ended play, I had to include some ways we’ve incorporated everyday things we have around the house into our play and learning.

There are so many toys to be found in the kitchen! Outside of the many practical and original uses for items found in our kitchens of which the educational benefits are many, my focus today will be in keeping with our series on encouraging open-ended play. Here are some creative alternative uses that my kitchen has afforded:

• My boys have borrowed my dough hook to masquerade as Captain Hook trapped in the gaping jaws of the crocodile.
• They have used my Tupperware to not only imitate cooking and eating, but also to sort and store small toys of theirs. It has provided a rich medium to facilitate the development of those motor skills required to open and shut the various lids!

• My guy has even used them to represent drums. (A peek into my future maybe???)
• They have borrowed my rolling pin for play dough, to act as wheels when pretending to be cars, etc.

• Tongs have become lobster or scorpion pincers or bird beaks.
• Large serving spoons have doubled for oars in our “boats”.
• My babies have all enjoyed the simple thrill of getting a play silk or scarf out of a slotted spoon.

All of these activities have challenged them in not only their physical development, but also been great for their creative development as well. Although I modeled much of the “alternative” uses for items at first, it has been exciting to watch my boys grow in their critical thinking skills and making do with what we have around us!

Of course, I’m still working on finding the balance of encouraging creativity and containing the chaos when too much of my kitchen has been taken elsewhere. But then developing the responsibility of putting things back where they go is part of the learning process as well.  I will say that during an especially crazy stage in my life, even the Tupperware cabinet was put under lock.  As the boys get older though, they are learning how to put things away and I’ve been able to loosen up on that again.

Providing our children with rich toys or homeschool props does not need to be expensive.  We usually just use what is lying around the house!

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 8]

Open-Ended Costumes

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 7]

(Rich getting baptized by fire into our ‘style’ of homeschooling at my baby sister’s Egyptian Feast.)

Our family LOVES to play dress-up. still… Growing up, we had a toybox chock full of wonderful dress-up clothes. Most of the items were thrift store finds which made them perfect for open-ended play. Mom also had a knack for putting together simple (VERY SIMPLE costumes)… With a few basic pieces, we could pretend we were just about anything.

One multi-use item that comes to mind was a red taffeta skirt. We used it as a saloon girl costume (back in our naive young years when we had no idea what a saloon girl really was), as a southern bell (by adding a tutu underneath to make the skirt flair out) and as a cape.

In college, my sister and I even used it to outfit my hubby, then beau, as a Spanish torero for a costume party we were attending. :sigh: I love him…

Here’s a short list of great additions to any child’s costume collection:

• longer skirts, preferably with elastic waist or wrap style so it can grow with your kids.
• vests (these can be used for both boy and girl costumes and if it is generic enough, can also span many different genre’s of make-believe play)
• hats: any themed hats make great additions. bowler caps, 3 cornered hat (colonial or pirate/sailor applications), vintage women’s hats, etc.
• Capes: a simple black cape can turn a little one into a super hero, knight, king, opera cape, etc.
• longer women’s coats. We had a blue and red long coat. They doubled as women’s coats over fancy dresses or when studying colonial America as the patriots and the British)
• Gold metal chain link belt (as a medieval belt for either a fair maiden or knight)
• sports jacket (I just found one that is several sizes too large for my oldest son and know that with three boys it will get a lot of use).
• a pair of suspenders.  This has so many applications and after reading some books about the War for Independence a few weeks ago, my boys are obsessed with this item from the dress-up drawer now!

By encouraging creativity in multi-uses for costumes, we can help our kids to think creatively and come up with their own unique combinations. The sky really is the limit on this and the possibilities endless! I’d love to hear about any favorite costumes you all had as kids or that your kids use.

A current fave in my house are daddy’s old tie’s and some kids suit coats that we found at Goodwill.  Of course, Keegan also is enjoying using a pair of tuxedo pants and pretending they are ‘golfer slacks’ while he goes outside and braves the 100+ degrees to hone his skills! 😉  The ties also quickly come off and are used as reins for their stick horses…

And because I’m feeling all nostalgic at this point, I thought I would share one more picture from way, way back when we prepared some more elaborate costumes for a History Fair.  Until next time…

Play Silks: Inspiring Creativity

[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 6]

I love play silks!!! They are right up there with blocks and, to date, have not resulted in bruises or bloodshed… So maybe that alone, would place them above blocks.  And actually now that we’ve owned ours for several years and are getting a bit further into our homeschool journey, I’m loving them more and more!

Because so much of our learning is hands-on and dramatic, we find that we are using them all the time and I don’t envision this slowing down anytime soon!

A play silk is simply a silk square (most commonly 36×36, but can be purchased/found in other sizes. Durable, beautiful, and useful in so many ways, play silks are an affordable way to inspire creativity and pretend play often absent from today’s toy box. They are probably the most used toy in our home and promote open-ended and imaginative play in a way that scripted toys simply cannot.

Play silks are perfect for: playing peek-a-boo, a doll blanket, sling, wings, a cape, a river, a turban, pirate’s headscarf, skirt, toga, belt, knights uniform, fort, or anything else a child dreams up…

Here are some peak into some of the ways our boys have played with them:

Recreating Curious George riding in a Hot Air Balloon.
Pirate boys walking the plank.
Fish in a pond!
Pretending to be a fish eating bird…
Playing baseball and running the bases…
Impromptu ‘pouches’ when we were learning about kangaroos during our study of Australia!
Re-enacting Bible stories such as the account of Abraham and Isaac.
Butterfly wings during our study of metamorphosis!
Adding to the feel of being a knight!

A Toy Garden is my favorite place to buy them.  The quality is superb and her customer service is amazing.  I don’t think there are any better deals on this quality of dyed silks out there.


[Open-Ended Play Series, PART 6]

PART 1  ~ Free to Play
PART 2 ~ Sounds Easy Enough
PART 3 ~ Micro-Managing No More
PART 4 ~ Keep It Simple
PART 5 ~ Block Play: Building a Child’s Mind 
PART  6 ~ Playsilks: Inspiring Creativity
PART 7 ~ Open-Ended Costumes
PART 8 ~ Kitchen Play
PART 9 ~ From Trash to Treasure
PART 10 ~ Making It Work

Block Play: Building a Child’s Mind

Block Play: Building a Child's Mind

What are you able to build with your blocks?

Castles and palaces, temples and docks.
Rain may keep raining, and others go roam,
But I can be happy building at home.
Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,
There I’ll establish a city for me…
…Now I have done with it, down let it go!
All in a moment the town is laid low.
Block upon block lying scattered and free,
What is there left of my town by the sea?
by Robert Louis Stevenson
from A Child’s Garden of Verses

That poem always makes me feel nostalgic! Blocks are at the top of my “must have” toy list. Their simple design allow for flexible usage, making it the quintessential open-ended toy. I have many a fond memory of playing with blocks when I was growing up.

It’s been a top toy for generations of children. Not only does it boost creativity and allow for endless hours of play, but there are a whole host of other educational benefits as well:

• Increases hand-eye coordination
• Enhances spatial awareness
• Enhances logic thinking capabilities
• Enhances language skills as they narrate what they are doing or describing the desired end-product.
• Math skills are sharpened in the process of grouping blocks together, adding or subtracting blocks from the group, etc…
• Improves social capability by encouraging cooperation as they build “something” together.

Here is a wonderful article that gave me the inspiration for my title and lays out why block play is so important.

There are so many options for buying blocks. My set has been discontinued.  Similar blocks and wagon can be found here and here I love my particular set because even the youngest of kids can ‘help’ put these blocks away and it is so convenient to haul them around to various parts of our home in the wagon!

One word of caution: While I mention above that there are “social benefits”, I’ve found that with my active, very physical little boys that this sometimes required more mommy participation in the early years as they learned the important skills of playing peaceably with each other and not turning the heavy wooden blocks into weapons when frustrated.  Is this a boy thing? I don’t remember doing this with my 2 sisters when I was growing up.  Then again, there is a lot of fuzzy memories from my childhood…

I would also add LEGO’s to this category and feel it has similar benefits, especially when you get the more open-ended building sets instead of just planned, pre-set forms with little building involved.  My boys play for hours and hours with them and make all kinds of beautiful creations that will line my buffet table in the front room from time to time.

Keegan’s birthday present for me last year – a long-stemmed rose.
[Open-Ended Play Series, Part 5]
PART 1     PART 2     PART 3    PART 4