I wrote the following article for the South African Institution of Civil Engineering’s (SAICE) magazine and it was published in June 2019. In the opinion piece we explore why it is so important to value the traditional trajectory of development and let little ones play with the physical world before exploring the virtual one, if we hope to develop technicians and engineers of the future. It was so wonderful to be given the opportunity to share the value of play beyond the fields of health and education.
Click on the link to read (pdf). Toddlers in Training – SAICE June 2019
As mentioned in our last post, I’ve recently finished reading the most wonderful ebook by a lady who has pioneered and led the field of playworkers – a field that I think holds such value. In her book The Playwork Primer (2010), Penny Wilson shares the delicate tiptoe between facilitating play on the playgrounds of London, and interfering in the developmental process that is the child’s work.
Today I would like to share her explanation of the critical balance in the child’s play process. Many occupational therapists need to understand and use this concept for the beautiful art of therapy to be successful.
Below is an excerpt from the book.
Complexity theory is a way of understanding natural systems. We look at a flock of birds or a school of fish moving in magnificent order and symmetry and wonder how they can do it. Both are examples of complex adaptive systems. In these natural systems, order is not the result of a pre-established plan that maps out, say, the flock’s flight path. Instead, the overall order, the graceful flocking, emerges from a few very simple rules about finding direction, keeping a certain distance from other birds, and so on, that govern individual birds’ flying behaviours.
The theories of complexity provide some interesting metaphors for understanding playwork. Arthur Battram describes an ideal state for a play setting by likening it to a wave. Before the wave breaks, there is stasis, order. After the wave breaks, there is turbulence and chaos. At the curl of the breaking wave there is a delicate balance between order and chaos.
If we relate this to a play setting then the static, ordered state is a very controlled setting. It is rule-bound, highly organised, and prescriptive; timed activities will take place. There is no room in this play setting for the creative spontaneity of playing children. If we look at a chaotic play setting, it is poorly organised. The hours when it is open are irregular. The toilets might not work. The staff might display a wide variety of moods and temperaments, with unpredictable attitudes towards the children and their playing.
Look at the curl of the wave, which is where we surf because that is where the power is. We see the meeting of order with spontaneous activity and unpredictability. Thus, an underlying order can support freedom and unpredictable play. It is a framework for creativity. Battram offers us the image of surfing on the edge of chaos and order as a metaphor for how a play setting works. It is our role as adults to understand this and create the solid foundations on which the children play.
Isn’t that just beautiful?
I must admit that I am person who likes order and it is hard for me as parent and homemaker to be playmaker too, to stand back and watch the beautiful chaos unfold.
What are your experiences of beautiful chaos? Aren’t they some of your best memories?
I’ve just finished reading the most wonderful ebook by a lady who has pioneered and led the field of playworkers – a field that I think holds such value. In her book The Playwork Primer (2010), Penny Wilson shares the delicate tiptoe between facilitating play on the playgrounds of London, and interfering in the developmental process that is the child’s work.
Children need to organise and direct their own play, but the reality is that few of today’s children are allowed to play freely, as earlier generations were. Some don’t know how to get started. Others need some adult support. Playworkers fill this space. They:
- create playful environments
- support children’s own play
- assess risk, and
- help out when needed, without directing or controlling.
Above all, playworkers strive to be as invisible as possible.
The following is an excerpt from the book.
In 1946 a a quirk of fate led Lady Allen of Hurtwood to visit a junk playground in Copenhagen-Emdrup, designed by the architect C. Th. Sorenson in 1943. He was commissioned by the authorities to create a place for children to play in response to increased levels of child delinquency during the German occupation. So Sorenson went back to look at other playgrounds that he had designed. He found them empty. Where were the children? They were playing in the wreckage of bombed-out buildings. So this is what he created: A place with materials that children could manipulate, where they could spend hours rooting around unnoticed and lost in their own worlds.
Lady Allen said of her first visit to this playground, “I was completely swept off my feet by my first visit to the Emdrup playground. In a flash of understanding I realised that I was looking at something quite new and full of possibilities.” She brought the concept back to London and gave it the name “adventure playground”.
At that time London children had little space to play except for bomb sites left after the Second World War. Here they spent their time building, making fires, digging for treasure from the dead homes, and generally scrubbing around on their own. Lady Allen had had a very playful rural childhood. She thought that her own experiences had been ideal and recognized in the sites she created with local communities a “compensatory environment”. By this she meant they were the nearest thing to her rural childhood that could be created for urban children.
Over the next few posts I’d like to explore more of the ideas shared in this book. But for now, what is the closest thing we have to an adventure playground here in our cities? We’d love to hear from you.
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.
- 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.
- Haibo! It’s Oibo! The elastic baby ball
- 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.
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?
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 🙂
Moluk have two wonderful toys for preschoolers and beyond – Mox and Nello. Read below for news from Zurich…
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 it against your head or other objects. Filled with coins or beans, Mox becomes 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 campaigns #moxicons will be one of the hashtags we are planning to use. With its trademark simplicity and depth of possibilities 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 managers 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.
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 great value, especially for educational channels.
Both toys are available on www.straightzigzag.com and remember to contact us if you qualify for wholesale discount!