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.

Railroads and helicopters: the vehicles of bad parenting

There’s a quote up on the wall in my therapy room: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child”.  It’s an old folk wisdom saying.  Yes be your child’s advocate, but to what extent will they be able to cope when you’re not around?

Here’s some interesting reading for those of you who enjoy commentary on the world as it stands, and more specifically how that might be affecting the development of our children. One such book is “The Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.  While I must admit that I have not read the book myself yet, this is why Mark Manson’s comments interested me:

  • The book describes why kids who grew up with smartphones are emotionally stunted, overly fragile and exhibiting mental health issues at alarming rates.  Yes, mental health.  Not just square eyes like our parents told us we’d get from watching too much tv. One of our previous posts commented on this specific issue.
  • The book focuses on cultural shifts that have happened over the past few generations, and doesn’t just jump on the band wagon of why “social media is so terrible and ruining our lives”.

According the  to the review (profanity warning!), Haidt and Lukianoff argue with a lot of convincing data that adolescents today are maturing emotionally and psychologically at lower rates and later than ever before. Their main targets are:

  • The ballooning dysfunction of school bureaucracies, who are now treating kids as customers rather than students.
  • The trend of “helicopter parenting,” where paranoid parents are coddling their children, protecting them from everything that is uncomfortable and/or potentially threatening.
  • Of course our favourite: The heightened expectations for academic achievement — most childhood development happens through playing with other kids. Kids these days play less than ever before, and when they do play, they are often isolated. Instead, they’re busy doing homework and prepping for college applications, sometimes as young as kindergarten.
  • There is also the obligatory “social media is ruining everything” chapter that we all know and love.

Gwilliamsfamilyeye also reviewed the book and had the following to say: “Lukianoff and Haidt are college professors who are watching how students act and the responses of the administrations. The authors are concerned about how “safetyism” is interfering with the ability of colleges to fulfill their mission. Safetyism shields young people from the experiences which will be uncomfortable in the short term but are necessary to develop the character and antifragility necessary to handle the challenges that life will present to them. The authors recognize that life is now more stressful for children than it was in the past and that true trauma can be disabling, but the definition of trauma cannot be allowed to creep until everything that someone doesn’t like is considered trauma.”

Safetyism.  Now that’s a new term for me but one that makes so much sense, especially in terms of all I’ve been reading about how we don’t let our children engage in enough risky play.  I’m a boy mom and guilty as charged.  I hate to see them take risks.  Maybe the trick is to watch over them a little less closely.  Is it even responsible parenting to say that?

Now you might not like doom and gloom predictions, the tech vs traditional upbringing decisions you have to make for your children on a daily basis, but take the time to read the excerpt below:

 “From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

To what extent does your child’s environment get adapted to cater for their needs on a daily basis?  To what extent are they being protected from risk and “trauma”, perhaps at the expense of becoming a well-functioning adult some day?

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The above article is intended to keep us open-minded as we navigate childcare together.  We all want the best for our children and find ourselves in unchartered waters.  We’d love to hear from you, but please be nice.  Any defamatory or discriminatory comments will be removed.

HOT OFF THE PRESS: Moluk’s new toys

This past weekend saw the world’s biggest toy fair take place in Nuremburg, Germany, and in keeping with their development rate of the last few years, Moluk once again impressed with their designs, showcasing two new products and this time branching into the arena of baby products.

  1. Baby teethers

Meet Nigi, Nagi, and Nogi!  A set of three silicon tactile baby teething rings.  These have been developed with such care and thought into the sensory development of the child’s mouth.  Not only are they safe for baby nibble on, but look at the wonderful tweaks that keep baby interested beyond the mouthing phase.

  • Little teeth on Nigi: great for scratching those itchy gums, but also great for creating really cute little smiley faces in combination with Moluk’s other toys.
  • The centre of Nagi has two little knobs which prod those gums, but get creative making all kinds of crowns, hats and constructions when used with Mox and co.
  • Nogi sports three scoops that resembles the surface and shape of a spoon. When baby transitions to solids they will be used to the fact that a spoon has a convex and a concave surface. And it’s a cute teddy face!

Made of 100% food-grade silicone rubber, MOLUK’s new teething rings are easy for small hands to hold and offer essential tactile and visual stimulation. The rings are dishwasher and freezer-safe and come in beautiful pastels or primary colours.

 

  1. Haibo! It’s Oibo! The elastic baby ball

Let’s:

  1. A) grasp + chew
    B) roll + throw
    C) stack + nest/build

There have been some popular baby balls on the market which are easy to grip, but Oibo takes this line of thought one step further.  Oibo is made of soft silicon, making it a popular choice for a larger age range.  When babies are learning to sit, we prop them up with pillow and surround them with toys, but what if the toys they topple over onto are hard?  The collapsible nature of Oibo means that no-one gets hurt if baby wobbles before sitting balance has developed. And the thin pieces mean that despite its large size, two blocks can be grasped in the palm at once.

Oibo can be grabbed, thrown, caught, squeezed, chewed and even stacked, thanks to the clever design cut from a sphere. The easy “grippability” of Oibo makes these skills more achievable at an earlier age or assists children who need the challenge to be modified. For example, Oibo’s many places for fingers to grip make it much easier to catch than a regular sphere. This will be a great asset for therapists working with children with slower reaction times, as the nature of the cube is “forgiving”, allowing for mastery of skills that are still developing.

The unpredictable bounce caused by the silicon and irregular shape provide novel appeal initiating play rather than skill mastery as the motivation for children to try. And Oibo is fun for adults too – can you juggle?

Oibo is made from 100% food-grade silicone rubber, free of BPA, phthalates, lead, and latex. It is dishwasher-safe and highly durable. Available in monochrome or primary colours.

 

Using them as a combo

Both the teethers and Oibo are made from soft silicon, allowing them to be suspended over your baby lying on their back as a mobile, and the various size openings encourage poking, gripping and passing from hand to hand, working on those eye-hand coordination skills at a very early age. The easy-grip of both toys also allows them to be passed easily from one hand to the other, encouraging the child to bring the hands to the midline.

Without being solid, the shape of Oibo is suggestive of a cube and other toys can be posted through the top and sides easily. The teething toys can be posted into Oibo. Later on, the teething toys can be threaded onto a pipe/pole/cone.  And of course they are wonderfully compatible with the rest of the Moluk range.

Well done to Moluk following a new line of thought while still staying true to their values of open-ended play, interchangeability, sensory and motor development and durability,

WOW that’s a long read!  If you’re still here you must think they’re worth investigating further so why not follow us on IG or Facebook and we’ll let you know as soon as they arrive.

The best place to be this weekend

This weekend (30 Jan – 3 Feb) marks the 70th anniversary of the world’s biggest toy fair, and the Spielwarenmesse is taking place in Nuremberg, Germany.  Anyone who is anyone in the toy industry is there, releasing cool new toys, bargaining for licenses, finding out what trends are hitting the playgrounds of the world this year, and living the spirit of play.  The strangest thing about the fair though, is that there are no children.  It’s a trade fair.  It’s the place where adults decide what toys will make their way into the playrooms in 2019.

My heart longs to be there, and it’s hard to believe it’s already 5 years since I made my way through the snow and crowds to experience the largest exhibition halls you can imagine.  One hall just for trains, one for dolls and accessories, one for tech toys, one for soft toys, one for educational toys, and the list never ends. Five days is barely enough to walk through once, and it’s hard work looking out for new stars.

The show sports a trend gallery, where they identify the up and coming themes that seem to be popular in the industry.  This year the trends are:

  1. Ready, Steady, PLAY!  

At Straight Zigzag we’re all for getting kids outside and active, so we’re 100% behind parents looking for attractive toys to grab the kids’ attention and get their muscles working.  It’s easy for us to see how the Bilibo, wobble boards, climbing ropes and scooters are popular in this category, and why parents are prepared to spend good money on sports equipment that will last through phases and seasons.

2. The WOW effect

These toys encourage the curiosity in our children.  Some conceal unexpected surprises to be discovered during play. Whether through water or heat, technical gimmicks or sophisticated mechanics – the toy is suddenly transformed into something special.

3. Toys for Kidults

Adults like to reminisce about the toys they played with, and some collectors pieces are placed in prominent places in homes and offices, often showcased in glass cabinets.

There are wonderful ways to use technology to spy on the exciting world of the toy fair.  Summary videos get posted on Youtube, you could watch for news on the official site here or you could follow #spielwarenmesse2019 to see more personal impressions. And for a primitive little video of my trip 5 years ago, click here.

Happy playing!

PS we’ll have an exciting news release from Moluk soon!

A reminder for all of us as to what really matters

A while back a friend’s FB status went something along the lines of “Ah open-ended toys. So beautiful. So multifarious. So very expensive.”

This made me sad.  While I was able to share some ideas with her about “loose parts play“, I had to admit that the most beautiful open-ended toys are generally quite expensive.  I’ve been following the most beautiful Grimms’ toys on my IG feed and have terrible #toyenvy when I see the elaborate creations, marble runs, Noah’s arks, car garages and obstacle courses built with these positively beautiful, masterfully crafted wooden shapes in rainbow colours.  I would love to support them through our business and for our family,but buying a set of imported wooden “blocks” for R5-7K just seems totally crazy!

So what is the rationale behind acquiring expensive toys for our children?  Aren’t our homes cluttered enough?

1.  Make space for beautiful and durable toys

I recently saw a post on IG by a mom who has totally bought into the concept of wooden toys, and open-ended play.  Before Christmas she cleared out their toy room of anything plastic other than Lego.  She created an absolutely beautiful space, with wooden blocks, a play kitchen and various other toys which allow for creativity without giving the child too many ideas as to how each toy “should” be played with.  The idea of open-ended play is that the possibilities are infinite.  The child develop their play ideas according to their level of what occupational therapists like to call “Creative Ability”.  Creative Ability is a very proudly South African concept as one of the pioneers in the field developed the theory of understanding what an individual is capable of doing at each stage of development.  Just give the same blocks to a 1-, 2- and 4-year old and watch in amazement as they play.

2. Support green manufacturing processes

Open-ended toys should definitely last throughout childhood, and when not compromising on quality the manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure durability as well as adhere to international safety standards.  The amount of energy that goes into production of a toy should be proportional to the use that the child will get out of it, thereby reducing waste and at the same time using our planet’s resources responsibly.  Did you know that Moluk’s toys, although plastic, are considered green?

Moluk has been featured at Design Week Milan and 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.  Think SIMPLE or rather don’t think at all

Despite my background I made some rookie mistakes this weekend when planning a space adventure party for my kids.  Essentially still toddlers and two years apart in age, I had many crafty activities planned which required too much adult assistance, too many steps to follow, too much dexterity and too much structure.  At one point I found myself a little exasperated amongst the chaotic squeals of kids around me.  But everyone was having a great time.  I realised afresh that kids just crave freedom to be kids, to explore  some new materials and create at their own pace, and to have the safety of a familiar adult nearby but one who does not interfere.

4.  You don’t need big bucks for your kids to have big ideas

On Sunday, when all the friends had gone home and we were left with play materials that needed to be packed away, they were much more ready to be creative in the space that had been created.  And this space did not require fancy toys or a large budget.  They just needed time, a place where they could explore at their own pace, and the freedom to do it.

5.  Clear out those junky bits and pieces

Whose joining me in clearing out for a fresh start to 2019, #mariekondomeetsstraightzigzag style?

 

More STUFF – for you and your kids!

We can all admit the silly season prep has hit us hard.  It’s as though Halloween comes and goes but with it goes any idea that there “might still be time to get it done this year”, whatever your it might be.  Suddenly the assault of Christmas decor in shopping centres is no longer subtle and every weekend is filled with “end of year” stuff – whether that be work functions, kiddie concerts, carol services or Christmas movies on Hallmark.  Despite it being the first week in November, the Black Friday adverts are filling our inboxes thick and fast.

And with all the hype comes that nagging feeling that we, or our kids, or both, need more “stuff”.  Better decorations for the tree, a few more fillings for the stockings, that once-in-a-lifetime special never-to-be-repeated. Our lives are already cluttered, why do we want to acquire more things?

We are nearly all proud owners of a scarcity mindset, whether we want to admit it or not.  This could be as a result of our upbringing, our culture, media – blame whoever you like.  A scarcity mindset makes you believe with all your heart that there are limited resources out there, and that your life will be better off if you acquire more stuff.

Your kids believe this too.  How can they possibly ever be seen in public (school) again if they don’t have this or that?  It might really be the end of the world.

In most cases, the mindset is just that, your reality, and not the truth.  There’s more than enough of whatever to go around.  So this year, why not think more experiences, less stuff.  It’s one thing the millennials seem to have gotten right.

If you are going to buy a few things (which of course we all are), here are a few tips to try and limit the excess:

  • Quality over quantity
  • Value-for-money over bargain
  • Long-term learning over short-lived pleasure
  • Good design over gimmick or gadget
  • Experiences over stuff

As all the excitement of the December break turns to overwhelm, try to remember your why and let that guide your shopping process.

Happy playing!

 

 

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 🙂