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

Why your kids aren’t satisfied with simple

We went to visit my brother and his new fiancée yesterday.  My 18 month old was asleep.  My eldest whispered to me, “Mommy, where are the toys?”

“I don’t think they have toys, Sweetheart.  Go and see what you can find outside.”

He came back after 2 whole minutes.  “Mommy, please can you ask them where the toys are.”

Ok. The property is massive.  It’s also the home where I grew up.  There are big hills to roll down, bushes with ideal holes for dens, trees to climb, sticks to find,  rocks and stones for construction. Despite the wonderful space, warm weather and blank slate of nature, he was going to need some guidance.

Dad took him outside and wandered around with him, until he found a few sticks that could maybe pass as guns.  One stick was so realistic it might’ve been a gun in a previous life.  I’m not a fan of weapons and associated play but yes, here we were.  We have reached That Stage.

sticks-and-stones

Yet he was still bored.  “Mommy, when can we go home?”  Home to heaps of cars, sports equipment, clay and crayons, animals and superheroes, swings and the trampoline.

We don’t have tv.  My kids generally spend most of their free time building Lego, paging through books, or climbing the jungle gym.  They like to help me “cook” dinner (James called himself Jamesie Oliver yesterday), water the garden and ride their bikes.  Yet here in a new environment, my child’s dependence on accessories for play caught me off guard.

Why do our kids need to be entertained?  We can’t just blame screens (as I often do) because ours could perhaps be described as a techno-phobic household.

This generation lacks two things.

  1. a) The effort that must be put in to develop an active imagination
  2. b) Simple props for play that don’t suggest what the end product should be

I’ve caught myself giving my three-year old way too many suggestions.   I think I’m helping him with ideas, but I’m actually hindering the creative process by leading his mind down a certain path.  Want to check whether you’re doing the same?  Ask your child to draw something.  Then ask them what it is.  Don’t make any suggestions!  Their answers will blow you away.

We played with kites.  Today’s kids have drones.  A kite requires a stable posture, reactivity to sensory feedback from arms and eyes, and physical strength.  A drone requires strength in those same to thumbs that get so much practice on the phone.

We dialled numbers on the landline to call our friends. We had to remember the number, or look it up alphabetically in the telephone book.  We had to dial. We had to have manners to request from our friend’s parent whether we could speak to them. Today it’s all one touch, very little mental effort required. Oh wait, they don’t even need to speak.

Some of the reason my children might be a little lazy to put in the creative effort stems from my own desire for a more peaceful home.  I have found the last year to be really challenging with my youngest, and if I was prepared to be Mom Entertainment after school, a little less boredom might mean a little more quiet, a little less nagging.  So we buy new “educational” toys, organise play dates, follow Pinterest for “101 ideas for play with your preschoolers”, and bring more clutter into our homes.  I see you, tired Mommy.  I understand.  Me too.  If my children are “impressed” by my efforts, they’ll play happily at home.

But when it comes to toys –have a look at the demands they place on your child.  Are they simple or complex?  Do they leave anything at all up to the imagination, or do they have so much detail that “they can do so many things”.  Is there any room for creativity or do they aim to “WOW” your child? Is your child playing actively or just being entertained? Was developer really bothered about your child’s best interest, or was he selling to you, the parent, to impress you and make a quick buck?

Your child can learn so much more from simple props/loose items.  A colander becomes a space helmet.  The laundry basket is a boat. Let them think – what can be added to this “toy” so that it can go/be longer/reach higher/ move faster? What do we have in the house that can be used for x/y/z?

We naturally want the best for our children.  I myself looked at the baby toys this weekend and wondered which ones could get repurposed, yet I found myself hanging on to them just a little longer, scared to abandon a potential learning opportunity to Hospice.  But if I’m honest, I know that my kids would do so much better with a blank slate, less clutter.  Imagine what would happen if they came home to empty toy chests and just a few play props lying in the middle of the garden!  I tell you what, there might be some whining at first, but then…the magic would start to happen!