We’re closing out our celebration of NAEYC’s Week of the Young Child with Family Friday. We have revamped this post from spring 2020 a little to reflect the changes that have happened since last April, but as many families have learned this year, classic activities are classics for a reason. Please enjoy these ones with your young child, and remember - the love, support, and work you’re putting into them will change the world.
As children’s book hero Alexander might say, 2020 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. In some places across the U.S., you and your child may be venturing out more and more, but in others, families are still spending plenty of time at home. So, what can you do when they’ve read all the books, played all the games, and aren’t even enticed by the television? The short answer, rely on your children’s ingenuity. While you might be tempted to seek out new games, puzzles, or books, I’m betting that there are some common materials you already have that you can use to spark your children’s imagination. Here are some ideas to try out:
Cardboard boxes, especially larger ones, can turn into all sorts of great things. Individually, boxes can be a boat or a car. Turn the box upside down and decorate it, and you’ve got a lemonade stand. String a series of boxes together in a row and you’ve got a train. All aboard! An appliance box makes a great spaceship. Boxes can also be turned into costumes. Cut a hole in the top and a hole on each side and you’ve got the start of a robot costume. Don’t have any larger boxes? No need to worry, a bunch of shoeboxes can be used to make a dollhouse or corrals for the farmyard, while older kids can make dioramas. The possibilities are only limited by children’s imaginations!
Every superhero needs a cape and in a pinch, a towel makes a good one. Stuff crumpled up paper into the middle of a hand towel and cinch in together with a rubber band and you’ve got a puppet. A blanket on the floor makes a good picnic spot; put that same blanket over the kitchen table and you’ve got a blanket fort where kids can snuggle and read together. Finally, if you string the blanket on the wall, it makes a great backdrop for a puppet show or a play.
Even if no one in your household sews, chances are good that you have a rag bag or a pile of not-so-gently used clothes. And if you’re like me, you probably have a jar full of buttons - you know, the extra buttons that come with new clothes that you saved just in case you ever need them. Now is the time to bring these things out. Fabric can be used to make costumes, doll clothes, headbands, and yes, even face masks. Strips of fabric can be woven together to make placemats, yarn can be used to string beads and twisted together to make bracelets.
Cardboard rolls are incredibly versatile. A single paper towel roll makes a dandy telescope, while two toilet paper rolls can be glued together to make binoculars. Rolls that are cut into even “slices” can be decorated and strung together to make necklaces or napkin rings. Egg cartons can be painted and turned into caterpillars or used to sort buttons or other found objects by size, color, or shape. Clean empty cans can be painted to make a personalized set of bowling pins.
These are just some of many ideas of how to use household items to keep children busy and encourage their creativity. And while it may seem that the kids are just making crafts, they are also building skills!
How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I posed that question to a random selection of contacts via text message. What did I discover? Everyone in my sample group spreads on the PB first, then the J. There are a variety of ways though to apply the jelly, but in my random group, the jelly always comes second.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make me think about Behavior Guidance, a dimension in the CLASS® toddler observation tool. Especially the first two indicators of behavior guidance: proactive and supporting positive behavior. Proactive is the peanut butter! It goes first. That layer of peanut butter is the base for the jelly, which promotes positive behavior.
“What I think I’m most proud of as a professional in the field is our ability to show up, our ability to still do it, to still roll with the changes… We have to adjust. That is what educators did the entire year. We show up. We have a strong why. We love what we do.” This is a quote from Colleen Schmit from our recent webinar, Celebrating Great Teaching. She’s talking about how hard the last couple of school years have been for teachers. Teachers faced a similar difficulty 20 years ago when the United States faced a national tragedy.
I was a kindergarten teacher for eight years at a public school. I loved my job, but somewhere along the road I started to become crotchety. I was often annoyed with my colleagues and frustrated with the demands of the district, and I was sure I knew better than any training or professional development session I would ever be forced to attend.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.