Does a fun learning programme equate to PLAY?

I was confronted with a thought: is play-based learning and learning through play the same thing? I really don’t believe it is.
 
Many people are starting to understand that we are pushing academic programmes at younger ages, and that children need to play more, so they advertise fun in learning. Fun letters and phonics, Fun maths lessons. Fun emotional intelligence classes. Fun language skills. Fun sports. Fun music lessons. There is a franchise for every extra-mural activity you can imagine that promises your toddler or preschooler will have fun while learning.
 
The problem with all of the above activities is that they are highly adult-directed. Play is supposed to be open-ended, novel AND fun. There should be no adult agenda, no output or goal other than the activity of play itself. Play should stem from a place of “What now? What next?” and even boredom.
 
All of the above activities start and end with adults in control of pre-planned activities. There is little to no space for age-appropriate creativity.

How can we promote play, without that agenda taking control of the play space?
1.  Time
Children need time to create their own thoughts and play scripts.  It often first requires that they get “bored” for that innate creativity to be stimulated.  Don’t be tempted to make suggestions too early on, or provide them with one-dimensional toys.  You might want to follow the podcast and hashtag #1000hoursoutside, which equates to about 3 hours per day, EVERY day of the year.
2.  Space
Where are the children going to play?  As a parent you probably know that children can play anywhere, although nature is the most wonderful space for children to explore and create.  Remove technology and interferences and let go.  Loose parts, or random objects that can be played with, are a wonderful way to stimulate their creativity.  They will ask “What can I do with this?”
3.  Wait
You might have heard of the Watch, Wait and Wonder principle.  This involves taking a step back and not intervening in the child’s process.  Give them a chance to get going and actively wonder what they will do next, rather than suggest what you would do next.
4.  Repeat
In a world of instant gratification and tech devices, your children might struggle to play on their own at first.  But start with a few minutes per day and gradually build up the time that they are able to spend entertaining themselves.
It’s hard not to push an agenda because we really do want what’s best for our children.  It’s hard to trust the developmental process.  It’s even harder when you have a child with special needs and you are trying to help them catch up with their peers.  It’s hard when you compare your child’s daily programme to that of their peers.  It’s hard when government dictates education expectations before age 7.
But if only we could all have the patience to see what our children figure out for themselves, and the pride of their faces.  They will learn how to climb and build, to be brave and to take turns.  They will wind daisy chains and comfort a child that falls.  They will build sequences with rocks and sticks, create complex structures and develop their own social rules.  They will learn to communicate and to stand up for themselves, and for their friends.
We, as the adults, place so much importance on what we think we know, and how we can make the world a better place.  When it comes to children, I am convinced that the innate process of development holds so much value and importance that is getting lost in our busy, over-scheduled and tech world.
#letthemplay #letthembelittle
Be part of the #playvolution and join our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/playvolutionbook) or order the book,  Playvolution: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Valuable Experiences Through Play (2014) by Karen and Alex Powell, on Amazon.

Your pocket or your conscience?

We all know times are tough.  We are all parents who want to give our kids the best possible opportunities, right?  At what cost?

Last week I was contacted by one of our biggest supporters and fellow mommy bloggers.  She was in a large retail store and found something that looked like Moluk’s Oogi, but wasn’t.  It was combined with a similarly designed toy by one of their competitors, used their same marketing photos, but cost a fraction of the price.  What was going on?

Unfortunately South Africa, as the rest of the world, is plagued by cheap rip offs of products.  We can’t seem to stop them from entering the market, and patents only protect so much.  So why should we as parents pay more when we could be paying so much less and keep our kids happy?

1.Design and Safety

All of Moluk’s toys have been carefully designed, with your child in mind.  The ideas come from a place of supporting open-ended play, and providing your child with a multi-dimensional toy that will evolve into different things as your child grows.  Swiss design means exceptionally high standards, as we know.  And with that comes compliance to international safety standards.  Did you know that the size of the hand, the thickness of the silicon and the manufacturing process all have to meet certain requirements before the toys can be sold?  Toy safety standards also have an impact on the age for which a specific toy is recommended.  When you buy the original product, you know that your child’s best interests are at the forefront of the design, before any profit can even be considered.

2. Sustainability
Did you know that Moluk was featured at Design Week Milan in April 2018, and they were part of Play It Green, an exhibition by afilii about sustainable toys during Kind & Jugend Fair in Cologne.   Sustainability has always been an essential concern when they develop toys. They use recyclable plastics and avoid any painted parts or composite materials. No PVC, no phthalates, no BPA. The resources and energy it takes to produce a toy always stand in relation to the play value and years of use you get out of it. Moluk toys have a stellar track record in this regard and a minimal ecological footprint.

3. Supporting local

We know that this is such a wonderful community of mommy bloggers, all trying to do the best for their kids.  In the end, supporting a local business that believes in only the best quality, rather than a cheap knock off comes down to your conscience.  There will always be a market for cheap toys unfortunately.  But what are you exposing your children to?  Who is getting the credit for someone else’s hard work?  If you cannot support the original designer and legal imports, why not use the principles of the design to do some homemade crafts this Christmas, and create your own figurines for your kids.  While this will be a lovely bonding time for your children and enhance their creativity, you will also know that you are supporting fair trade, ethical business principles and local entrepreneurs.

It’s up to you!  We can only survive on the loyalty of our customers to the brand and all that we stand for.  Moluk and Straight Zigzag promise to never compromise on quality, sustainability and ethical business practices. We all stand together!

Note: if you should come across counterfeit versions of any of our toys, please pop me a message at info@straightzigzag.com.  Will be much appreciated 🙂

Guest post by Jacqui Couper: If Relationships Matter, Play is the Medium

Our guest today is Jacqui Couper – an occupational therapist, wife and mother.  This post first appeared here, and we are so grateful that Jacqui was happy for us to share it.

 

Growing up in a bowling alley

We know that our play spaces are shrinking.  Winter is coming, and the little time that our children spend outdoors after school is cut short by the sinking sun.  In our family we eat quite early, which leaves some free play time before bath time.  On long summer evenings this is an ideal wind-down time – kicking a ball, cricket, trampoline time, watching the sun set.  But the cooler evenings are chasing us indoors, even if we’re not quite ready to bath.  The kids do quite a lot of fine motor play at school so we need to find a way to play and move indoors, without wrecking the house.

This is where the bowling alley comes in.  Every house should have one.  I grew up in an oldish house in the older suburbs – a big property and a long house with all the rooms coming off one central passage.  Not by design, my husband and I ended buying a similarly designed home.  Large garden for two busy boys, and very long, smooth, wooden floor passage running down the middle of the house.

The kids love playing here.  It’s the ideal space to skid along in bed socks, slide around in  the washing basket, and of course, throw/roll/kick balls.  Sometimes the doors to the rooms are open and add goals or traps to the game, other times the doors are all closed to create a darker bowling alley.

Here are some of the games the boys are enjoying at the moment:

  1.  Seated soccer: rolling the ball to each other and scoring a goal by getting it past the other’s legs
  2. Bath mat golf: rolling a golf ball down the passage and getting it to stop on a bath mat at the other end
  3. Bouncing ball mayhem:  throwing a handful of bouncy balls at once and enjoying the chaos

There are photos along the walls so we have some rules regarding the size and type of ball allowed for the various games.  To date, no casualties.

What are your children’s favourite play spaces in your home?

 

But Mommy, little girls DO exist!

It was without any planning that our most recent trip to the library resulted in reading bedtime stories that assume the wonderful imaginations of our children are based more in reality that those of  their parents.  My eldest is definitely at the age where he is constantly at war within himself, trying to figure out what is real, what is play-play and what is in his best interests to believe in (i.e. Father Christmas and the Tooth Mouse).

We came home with two wonderful books:

  • “I want my light on!” by Tony Ross
  • “There’s no such thing as a dragon” by Jack Kent

I want my light on! is the story of a little princess who doesn’t want to go to bed, because she believes there are ghosts in her room, despite all the palace staff trying to convince her otherwise.  In a lovely twist, the book ends with the little ghost convincing his mom that little girls are real.

There’s no such thing as a dragon is of a similar theme, although perhaps with a slightly more poignant theme for us to take note of. The little boy’s dragon grows bigger and bigger, eventually carrying the family’s house away on his back, just so that he will get noticed, taken seriously, and that the parents will believe he is real.

These books highlight the role of imagination in early development, specifically in toddlers and preschool children.  Reading plays a vital role in the development of imaginative narrative, that the children then play out in their play routines.  While dragons, fairies, ghosts and the like show evidence of the child’s community’s beliefs, they also play a significant part in shaping the child’s world view.

What should imaginative play look like?

Between 18 and 24 months toddlers will start to play their first pretend games, acting out things that they see the adults in their lives do.  This may include talking on the phone, cooking, driving a car.

By two years, they understand that an object could stand for something else e.g. this spoon could be my “phone”.  They also like to pretend e.g. that they’re eating.  I couldn’t believe it when my husband taught my toddler to fake sleep, eyes closed and snoring and all!  It was definitely his first demonstration of understanding “play-play”.

As the child nears their third birthday they will really enter the world of imaginary play.  You can look forward to more complicated scenes: boats and railways, tea parties, fight scenes and careers start to emerge.  By age four they’ve moved from action and sound effects to complicated story lines and character traits.

So how can you as a parent foster this vital form of play in your child?

  • Read read read! Books are a wonderful way to develop imaginative skills, abstract thinking and an understanding of story lines.
  • Provide your child with props for their play time. These need not resemble anything in particular.  Old curtain rings, wooden blocks and pieces of material can be used to create all sorts of scenes.
  • Keep some old clothes for dress up and role play. These could be specific outfits from a school dress up day such as a doctor or princess, or a collection of hats, jewellery and shoes that they can use as their hearts desire.
  • Get on the floor and play! There’s a fine line between teaching your children to play on their own, and promoting their play by acting as their play partner.  If your child invites you into their story, by all means play along.  Ask questions: What happened next?  Who is this?  Who am I?

Imaginative play is such a wonderful phase of development.  Your child will develop their cognitive and social skills, as well as test out their own theories of how the world works.  It is their safe space to explore interactions, sequences and consequences.

 

The information provided in this article is intended to foster a playful spirit in homes and to provide parents with ideas.  This blog cannot replace a consultation with a health professional.  If you have any concerns about your child’s development please seek individualized advice.

Don’t tell me to decrease screen time!

If there’s one thing that causes heated debate on social media, gets defenses up and brings out the worst side of already over-tired moms, it’s another blog post that tells us we’re doing it wrong.  Specifically, that your kids should be exposed to less screen time.

From what I’ve seen, whether it’s a celebrity influencer, a mommy blogger or a key opinion leader in a professional capacity, it doesn’t matter how much research is quoted, everyone skips to the last paragraph if they read it at all, and then feels down about failing their children.  Some have the defensive energy to argue it out with the other parents online, others add it to the list of overwhelm (not organic, not emotionally available, not recycled, not meat-free, too much busyness etc). Why the hype?  Why do we feel so strongly about these things and yet do so little to change it?

Technology is all-encompasing

As a paediatric occupational therapist, my bag of “work tools” has become considerably lighter.  No need for a calculator, stop watch, or diary.  These days I don’t even need my laptop!  A smartphone can do everything I need, and all my information is in one place.  Even the cards in my wallet are less, as medical aids, banks and shopping loyalty programs all switch over to apps.  Have a look at the apps of your phone, and imagine what your parents’ generation would’ve been carrying around in their place.  So as an adult, and more specifically a millennial, why wouldn’t I have phone that requires so much of my attention throughout the day?

No-one has navigated this before

A millennial is anyone born between 1980 and 2000.  So that means the first generation of millennials are just about to reach “middle age” or start having their “mid-life crises”.  And after that they’ll slide towards “maturity”, and later “old age”.  But no-one born into this techno-era has aged yet.  We don’t know what the effects of all this convenience will have had on our lives.  Do we know that some of it is positive?  Absolutely.  Can we foresee the negatives?  Maybe some of them.

These things are supposed to make life better

I’m reading such an alarming amount of articles on mental illness in children, and it scares me.  How can I care for the emotional well-being of my kids?  How can I know whether they’re ok?  Why is it that children are experiencing increased pressure and anxiety?  Maybe these articles are pushing me towards a positive action.

Children do not need much to develop well.  They need your love and attention.  They need routine and balance.  As the pace of society increases in response to being “busy” being made easier, we try to keep up but are failing.  It might be “convenient” to check email while your child has their swimming lesson, but you’ve also lost a chance to be off the grid for 30 minutes.  We can “chat” to our friends via Whatsapp, but we lose the opportunity for a heartfelt conversation, with eye contact and a physical hug, instead of LOL’s and emoticons.

As an OT I am so aware that we, and our children, are losing “touch” with reality i.e. losing our grasp on the tangible and physical world as we give way to virtual learning.  It is so important for your baby to see your face while you rock them and sing a lullaby, for your toddler to paint with real messy colours and feel the squish of brush as it touches the paper.  Your preschooler needs to know what a star’s points feel like, as he turns it to fit into the hole of the shape sorter.  Grocery shopping needs to be a literacy and mathematical journey – learning about brands and weights and prices and calculations. Your children need to rest their weary heads on your chest and hear the thump of your heart as you read a bedtime story.  Dinner time or tea time needs to be a quiet space in the day.  Maybe sometimes your school-going children had a day that was “fine”, but they need to know that on the day that wasn’t, there’s a safe space to come home to – a space without judgement or interruptions.

Hear me out, dear parent.  I am a mommy to two loud boys.  Having babies has been a difficult and sometimes isolating experience.  There have been days that Whatsapp has been my shout out for help when I just couldn’t manage.  Google has set my mind at ease about various kiddy problems I’ve never had to deal with before.  Messages from my husband when he’s running late help me to plan dinner time better and email on my smartphone means I can run a virtual business without getting a babysitter for my kids.  I understand.  I know the way that technology has seeped into every facet of your life.  I know that sometimes a moment of quiet to attend to something while the kids watch tv is a Godsend.  But I am going to dare say this : we all need to be more mindful about exposing our children to screens, and specifically unsupervised internet access.

Why?

  1.  They are always “on”.  There is never down time.  If you don’t teach them to put boundaries in place (and yes, by example), they will burn out from anxiety before high school.
  2. They are visually overstimulated.  Everything is busy, beautiful and appealing.  The abilities to touch, feel, and listen are being lost.
  3. When we’re addicted to screens, “normal” everyday experiences that are developmentally vital lack their appeal and are passed over.
  4. Social media is all about appearances. Being a teenager has always been hard enough.  Now you have to up your game.  And any mishaps will be screenshot and exploited.
  5. The popularity contest of tweens and pre-teens is having a negative effect on children’s self-confidence and sense of worth.
  6. Young kids are able to find their way around cyberspace without being aware of the inherent dangers, or being mature enough to deal with them.
  7. Screen time has replaced green time: we don’t get out in the fresh air, exercise our tree-climbing muscles and watch the clouds.
  8. App’s are being developed by the minute for every facet of your life: from your Bible to your exercise routine … don’t let an app replace you as a parent.

 

I’m not going to tell you to take away their screens.  You’ll tell me I’ll raise dysfunctional children who can’t navigate the world.  But I am going to beg you to be steadfast in making time, away from the busy world, to spend quality time with your children.  Not just for their mental health, but for yours too.

A bunch of toddlers and a blank slate

So yesterday was a new experience and a big risk. We took some toddlers, a new photographer and an open forest with a bunch of our toys to see whether we could get some great shots of the kids having fun.  The kids knew each other but didn’t see each other often.  None of them were models save for posing for their moms’ IG accounts.  They weren’t familiar with the toys.  And guess what? We got some great shots.  Why?

There was no agenda.  The kids were presented with open-ended toys.  The photographer needed some explanation as to what could be done with them, but the kids didn’t.  Kids have the most fun when they are able to use their imaginations, and when toys have more than one purpose.

I saw a quote recently that said “Ask: Is this toy 90 percent child and 10 percent toy, or 90 percent toy and 10 percent child? If there’s only one thing to do with it, then the toy is controlling everything. This one’s more open-ended, so he gets to make his own world.” – Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, professor of psychology at University of Delaware and co-author of the New York Times best seller speaking about Bilibo from Moluk.

There is a school of thought related to play called the Theory of Loose Parts.  If you know me personally you will have heard me talk about it many times.  When children are left in an open space, with random unfamiliar objects lying around, they will start to imagine, create and play – creating their own toys and play space in a unique way that allows for much more brain development than the fanciest toys we can provide.  You see, play is innate.  Children were designed for play.  We as adults interfere way too much and way too often, stifling the creativity that is waiting to emerge.

Anything can be used as loose parts: old tyres, wooden offcuts, buttons, household items.  When children are given the freedom to explore we will be astounded not only by their creativity but also their ability to handle what we might see as dangerous objects.  Scandinavian playgrounds would shock many helicopter parents with their liberal use of loose parts and their faith in children’s abilities.  Yes accidents do happen, but they happen anywhere.  We need to intervene less and watch more.  And if you want to treat your children to new toys, look for ones with infinite opportunity to be used in creating their own play scenarios.

Happy playing!  And we’ll share some of the pics soon 🙂

Raindrops for Spring

At a recent trade expo called SARCDA we were very happy to see a surge in the number of parents, teachers, and toy retailers showing interest in a fantastic little water toy called Pluï.  Pluï, designed by Moluk, is also known as The Rain Ball, because children can control the rate of air flow through the toy by blocking the top hole with their finger – and create rain drops.  To date, Pluï has not sold very well – perhaps due to a lack of understanding of its potential,  but I’m happy to say that nursery schools and even swim school teachers from around the country have taken Pluï home with them.

If you’d like to read a full review on Pluï, read it here.  And remember, Pluï is available on www.straightzigzag.com.

Happy water playing in the warmer weather!

plui_play_2plui

New from Moluk

A significant amount of time has passed since the last post, and in that time our friends at Moluk have been hard at work preparing two new toys for the European summer – Mox and Nello. Read below for news from Zurich…

Mox
Next to the doll the ball is probably the most popular and universal toy. Mox combines both worlds: It has the expressive qualities of a puppet with a big mouth and the endless possibilities of a ball that can be rolled, thrown, caught or even juggled. One of the biggest surprises to most people is usually the sound Mox makes when you knock with it against your head or other objects. Filled with coins or beans Mox becoms a rattle. If you squeeze it or turn it inside out the expression of the ball changes and you discover many new faces. It’s like a tangible, 3-dimensional emoticon and in our social media campains #moxicons will be one of the hashtags we are planning to use. With its trademark simplicity and depth of possiblities we see Mox as a strong new member or the MOLUK family. It has no restrictions regarding age and can be sold as a baby toy, compact travel toy, juggling toy, fidget toy for stressed manager and in many other areas. We can’t wait to see all the uses kids will come up with once they have Mox in their hands.

Mox comes in two versions: The open display is geared towards shops where it fits next to the cashier and should make for some fun conversation while the 3-set box is mainly designed for online retailers, gift shops that like items in boxes or educational vendors who prefer sets.

mox_faces

Nello
Nello is very closely related to Bilibo. Both are what we call “tools for play”: Simple, intriguing objects that tickle the imagination and invite kids to invent their own games and stories. Like Bilibo Nello unites several toys in one. It is a color puzzle, a nesting toy, a marble run, a floating island in the bath or a sand toy at the beach. You can roll, spin and swing the rings, throw and catch them. Use them as targets for games like tiddlywinks or as beautiful props for role and pretend play. The bold shapes and bright colors have an iconic quality and look great even when the toys are just lying around before or after play. Nello is made of the same robust material as Bilibo and 100% recyclable. It comes in sets of 3 pieces or a Nello Max set with 9 pieces containing all sizes and colors in one box. This offers a great value, especially for educational channels.

nello_colorsnello_play1

Oh Boi!

When Moluk released Oogi and friends (Jnr, Bongo, Pilla, Oogifant) I did not forsee the arrival of this precious addition to the zoo…

boi_water

Is it a duck? A penguin?  While I’m pretty sure it’s a bird of sorts, you might be surprised to learn that it’s a water bird!  Not only is Boi the cutest wobble toy we’ve found, with a captivating roll in all directions, but he surprisingly floats!  This makes Boi a dual-purpose bird – entertaining little ones on land and in the bath.

Add to the multi-purpose base his suction beak and voila! Possibilities are once again endless, as is the focus when Moluk design a new member of the family.  Of course he is great friends with other members of the Oogi clan..

What I particularly like about Boi is the wonderful sensory appeal.  The white base is so smooth and glossy you can’t help but run your fingers over the almost mirror-like surface.  And the black head and beak are made from silicone – squishy, malleable, and a great fidget toy.

While the simple colour scheme of Boi (as well as his waddle) is most reminiscent of a penguin, it also appeals to the popular monochrome Nordic theme in so many homes these days.

 

Boi will be arriving in South Africa in the next few weeks so keep your eyes on our Facebook page for news 🙂

boi_kid