Posts tagged ‘play’

February 6, 2015

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0206

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

DSC_0200

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry JunkieS
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

August 9, 2014

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s a Child in Costume: Dramatic Play for Early Learners

by Melissa Harding

IMG_0157

Over the years, Phipps has been visited by many important dignitaries; besides the President of the United States, we have also been honored by visits from Batman, Spiderman and a variety of princesses. Of course, those last few have come to us in the form of children in costume. As any parent can attest, children love to dress up, especially for summer camp. Both boys and girls enjoy wearing costumes, no matter how make-shift, and taking on the persona of that person or animal. While it may seem like just a phase that young children go through, it is actually rather critical; whether pretending to be superheroes, royalty, animals, or anything else that strikes their fancy, dressing up is a core part of play for early learners. Costume play is a form of imaginative play, acting out the stories and emotions of others; this kind of play is important to both cognitive and social development. Research has found that imaginative play can increase language skills, as well as a child’s ability to express both positive and negative emotions. It can also increase their empathy for others and help them to better self-regulate their own emotions and behaviors. (Self-regulation, a form of executive function, has been addressed before in this space). When children use toys and costumes to engage in dramatic scenes, they learn communication and problem-solving skills as well.

Clearly, dramatic play and dress-up are important parts of both childhood and child development. In fact, dramatic play makes up the majority of all types of play for children ages 3-7. This type of play is open-ended. While watching TV and playing video games are alluring, if passive, activities that children enjoy, toys and even ordinary objects provide a more active, creative experience. Other examples of dramatic play besides costume play are puppetry, role-playing and fantasy-play. This can involve re-enacting a scene from either their real lives or a story they’ve heard. It can also take on fantasy elements as children start to make up their own stories. This is how children learn to make sense of the world around them and how it relates to their lives. Much like reading fiction helps children explore new people and situations, so does dramatic play.

Phipps Science Education 074

While many children naturally play pretend with anything around them, others may need more encouragement to use their imaginations during play. Creating an environment that supports imaginative play is a good way to help those children learn to develop creatively.

Ways to promote imaginative and dramatic play for your child;
1. Set-up a role-play corner in your home or classroom: A play kitchen, post-office, classroom, grocery store or other location can help children feel like they have a “stage” to play on. This stage will encourage your child to act out more dramatic scenes. It can also help children to learn desired behaviors and skills; for example, stocking your corner with placemats, play dishes and silverware can help your child learn to set the table. If you don’t room for a permanent play space, allow your child to set up temporary play spaces, such as creating blanket caves and pillow forts that can easily be put away at bed time.
2. Provide materials for play: Even if you don’t have room for a corner to be devoted to a larger dramatic play set, you can still create small collections of items that your child can use to play: pots, spoons and an apron; envelopes, old greeting cards and stickers (or “stamps”); a small chalkboard, chalk and books; a toy cash register and clean, empty food containers. Try to provide items that children can pretend to read or can write on, as this promotes literacy. While younger children rely on realistic materials, older children will start to substitute, such as using a piece of rope for a fire hose or a stick for a sword. This material substitution shows that the child is learning abstract thinking and use of symbols.
3. Read more stories: Parents who read or tell stories at bed-time are more likely to foster imaginative play.
4. Make costumes together: Making costumes with your child is a fun way to promote learning about specific animals, plants and people.  However, don’t feel like they need to be works of art and built to last a lifetime. We create simple animal and insect costumes for our students to help them better dramatize the actions of our lesson topics without ever touching fabric or a needle. Simple wings can be made from poster board and yarn, or antennae from cardboard and pipe cleaners. You don’t need to know how to sew to create fun costumes that your child will love!
5. Provide lots of play time: Give your child uninterrupted time to play pretend. It can take children some time to stage their pretend play, especially when several children are playing together.
6. Let children control the play: While your child may want to play pretend with you, it is important that you let them control the play and take your cues from them. Remember, when adults are telling children how to play, it’s not really play.

The good news is that children will find a way to play pretend in just about situation. The best way to support this important developmental activity is just to let them do it.

To learn more about the benefits of imaginative play, check out this great article by Early Childhood News.

Read this post to learn about the importance of play to child development.

Check out The Importance of Play and get practical ideas for creating play-positive environments over at The Imagination Tree.

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff and interns.

January 16, 2014

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0206

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

DSC_0200

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry Junkie
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry.

March 1, 2013

Home Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

Kids snow 2 Molly Steinwald

We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and meadow-hen lurk, and to hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls its belly close to the ground…we can never have enough of nature.” – Henry David Thoreau

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in February, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

Kids snow Molly Steinwald

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry Junkie
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is give them a pocketful of crackers and send them outside; they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken and copyrighted by Molly Steinwald.

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