Sunday, 21 September 2014

How Play Changed Us

It's hard to explain why an ordinary working mom like me has a blog that's mostly about playful parenting and child learning.  I have no education credentials to speak of, and I'd cringe if somebody called this a how-to-parent blog.

I do this because this is a testimonial to how play has changed our lives.  Here is the backstory to why I write what I do.


Ladybug Girl was a sensitive little baby.  She would fuss when the room was noisy.  As a toddler, she would cry when people applauded and exclaimed over her.  The Bible scared her and nursery books could make her tear up.  Till today at six, she claps her hands over ears as a defense instinct.

 1 year old
4 years old

When she turned two, I started to wonder how to play with her.  (This is pretty common the more I speak to moms because of my job).  I seriously didn't know how to play with a baby -- I had been an adult for fourteen years!  All I remember is dolls and TV and colouring books.

My early choices were well-meaning, but with hindsight... pretty stupid.

I carefully chose and edited sesame street clips to watch together.  I'm not against screen time, don't get me wrong - she learned the alphabet this way.  It's just that we could have done so much more of other kinds of play.

Believe it or not I bought her these Barbie dolls at two years old (okay fine, really it was ONE year old).
I thought I was so clever, and plunked down money on superhero girls over fairies and princess.
But apparently imagination kicks in best at five, even six, years old!

Weekends were worse - I was bored and restless.  So we'd go out : that was our play.  And when the novelty wore off, I finally googled "how to play" for ideas that I could do on weekends.

After our first volcano, I never looked back. 

I got hooked on the wonder in her face.  Playing stopped being a chore when I was learning through her eyes.  I had forgotten the excitement of experiencing the world as a child, but the memories come rushing back once you start following a child's lead.  So I did.  It was life-changing.


I began to be more present, mind and spirit, in our play - rather than just passing the time.

Messy play was the most fun - absolutely guaranteed to get the look of wonder on her face.  

Mixed flour and baby oil for a sweet-smelling play dough.  The mess is part of the play.

Baking with food colouring eventually led to colour mixing with the extra batter
And inevitably leads to some hands-on delight 
This was just a few months ago after the "volcano" errupted
Learning the colour wheel with coloured water: eventually irresistible to touch

Reading about Montessori and following some awesome blogs led me to discover what that magic was called : sensorial play.  At the first stage of brain development (from 0-6), sensorial learning is the most important to help them understand how the world works.

But the best reason to play in this way I discovered entirely by accident.  My little shy girl blossomed.  She became more confident in herself.  Where before she would fear new experiences and failure and shrink away, after a year of doing sensory play she wouldn't hesitate.

This lets her experience her body and the sensations of movement
Enjoying the view from the top of the "Crazy Bus" ride.  Neither me or my husband enjoy rides like this, but she now does.  At Universal Studios she made the height limit to ride this.  I was more scared than she was.
I'm convinced that sensory play is also the reason she became more expressive and socially confident.
Those who knew her before marvelled at this huge change.  Where before she would be nervous around people, she began to volunteer at kiddie shows and games and enjoy attention from my officemates.

Finally smiling around mama's officemates

Play has changed me too.  Before discovering the world of playful parenting, multiple intelligences and Montessori, I wanted to toughen her up.  Be the classic "happy baby" that everyone expects babies to be.  I honestly thought she would grow out of being sensitive.

Thank the Good Lord he intervened with some mama's grace to listen to my daughter.  Through play time I got to observe her, learn about her and, in time,  know her well.   I fell deeper in love with her gentle spirit and soft heart.  She will always be a sensitive soul.  I'm thankful that as much as play time allows me to be her guide, it lets her be mine.

Seeing the world through her eyes makes me a better mama

I've used play principles for all sorts of parenting situations: our first ER trip trauma, helping her learn math, and dealing with anxiety... I guarantee that whatever your situation is, play will help.

Make time for play and the rewards are worth it.


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Friday, 12 September 2014

Our No-Garden Play Space

I love our home, but one of the things I wish for is a garden for Ladybug Girl to play in.  I had to find some simple ways to carve out some nature space for play -- even with no garden!
I wasn't (am not) some Earth Mama or anything, but something told me that nature play was important for bringing up my child.  I myself didn't have nature spaces in my childhood but my papa was a big nature buff : he would go camping on the weekends and come home smelling like dirt and force us to hug him.  Too bad I only started longing for nature once I started working, chained to a grey office everyday.

This long, narrow outside corridor was the only green space in our home when we moved in:
Ladybug Girl was two years old here

Here's what it looks like nowadays:


There's still a roof overhead so it's not an area that can be a full grassy garden.  So we just put down some nice stone on the wall, deck flooring from Home Depot, and some shelving for plants and outdoor play materials that are easily accessible for a little kid's height.  

The faithful Kamias Tree is as old as my husband.  It's such a trooper.
And always a fun little harvest every few months:


Here are some of our usual materials kept outside:

A tray of sand (with or without this little magnet game)
A science playset of bottles and droppers and coloured liquid.
This was expired Listerine for Kids which is now gone.
Food colouring - primary colours only (for colour mixing).
The spray bottles have food colouring diluted with water.
Colored sand from National Bookstore in that kitchen organiser.  See here why.
The heart shape you see in the picture above is actually a chalkboard:
From Two Tots around four years ago - it's held up nicely.  During hosting duties we flip it and it has the sign for the guest bathroom which is, strangely, through that door.

Her wheelbarrow holds the plants I'm propagating for use around the house.
She helped me cut the shoots and pot a few of them.  But mostly these are for her watering.

It's been nice to have an outdoor space where we can just get messy:

A nice spot for her toddler pool

Ladybug Girl and her cousin paints some bubble wrap on a playdate a few years ago

I always put buckets of water out so they can wash by themselves:



We've made a handful of volcanoes out here:

This one was coloured vinegar poured into a baking-soda-filled volcano shape made from clay and a glass jar.

Lately I keep a tray full of glass bottles I've collected over time - toddlers and preschoolers mix and make coloured potions out here.  Hasn't gotten old in four years:

  


When the play is too messy, we hose them off right there (true story).  Bath time is fun outside:



The other end of this corridor is the laundry area which somehow gets used for play too:



But this little space wouldn't be complete without bringing in some nature play:

I let her replant these aloe vera stems and guess what, they grew!!
Messy gardening fun

At some point we successfully grew a tomato plant from a seedling bought at a supermarket:
After this we got an infestation of white flies pests and the plant died.  Boo.
She was super proud though, and we cooked that little tomato!

Sometimes we're lucky enough to find some garden wildlife like beetles, centipedes and this little snail here.  But I would really love some caterpillars and earth worms someday.

She touches all of them - I'm determined not to repeat my own bug fear in my daughter!

If you've noticed, our table keeps changing through the last four years.  Our latest one is just the old green one revived with a new table top and painted white.  I had a hole made in the center which fits an Ikea Trofast drawer like this:


It can hold water play, garden messes, the glass jars for potions, and so on.

Her latest gardening project: a store-bought terrarium

Lately I've been growing something fun in that table:

A makahiya plant!
Can you believe they sell seeds of this as an "alien plant" in Hobbes and Landes for 600 pesos?!

This was growing in her Lola's garden in Tagaytay:
Magical at two years old here, and even today
Look how much it's grown!  They're taking over the plants I'm propagating!

 Our greenery is still pretty limited because I've killed 80% of all the plants I bring home from the store.  Any suggestions to bring some plant varieties for caterpillars and earthworms?  I'd love to hear it.

So that's how we've managed to fit in some nature and a messy play area outdoors.  I love squeezing play spaces in my home wherever I can!  A little space can be magical when you make room for play.

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  See our other play spaces in the gallery on the right side of the blog or click over to here.   

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Bring a Tray to Bathtime


With just the same materials we use for play time around here, it's really easy to think up new ways to keep using them.  In our case, it's just a tray that I put in the shower/makeshift tub area.  I love to do sensorial messy play in the bathroom because everything just washes down at the end of the bath.

A few weeks ago, Ladybug Girl went through a brief fascination with ice skating.  She saw a toy review and wanted an Elsa doll that could skate (someone teach me how to block toy channels on YouTube!).  Luckily this got it out of her system:

We dressed a doll in figure skater clothes (thank you, cousins, for this stash of dolls and clothes!), and I put a tray in the shower with some near-empty washable paint that I wanted to finish up.
 This was just all sorts of fun --
playing pretend, making art and feeling the sensory delight of paint with her hands.
Great play even for toddlers in the bath!

This next one is equally simple, if you don't mind using half a can of shaving foam:

The figures are from her Busy Book with the Frozen movie theme, which is in every bookstore right now

Wouldn't this be nice with some polar animals to learn about habitats? 

Truthfully I didn't need half a can of shaving foam - I was just having too much fun myself.  No further pictures than this because I joined in on this bath play.

But really, sometimes all you need is a tray among the usual toys and bath bubbles and that's enough.

It's an island... or maybe a boat? 
I think the best part is that ordinary things become magical when our kids get their hands on it.
Or maybe it's the fact that these only take three minutes to setup!


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