In order to have a shower today, I ended up filling a Rubbermaid bin that had been holding my scrap fabric with a squirt of dish soap and warm water, nest-able stainless steel bowls, measuring spoons, slotted spoon, very porous sponges, and one of our few plastic toys… she was happy and fairly safe (right next to the bathtub) and I had a long shower with NO whining! Quite a feat! And, Sapphire wasn’t getting sprayed with the shower, and I wasn’t having a bath I didn’t want. It may be her new bath area until she’s big enough for baths alone in the big tub. I have had a bath with her nearly every day of her life for the last year, with Haley filling in on occasion. I really think it helped tremendously in cementing our bond…I have read that we are programmed as mamas to have a slippery warm baby skin to skin with us right after birth…we didn’t get that so I recreated it every day. When she was little it was often the only time she stopped crying or fell asleep without bouncing. She also used to do the breast crawl as new born babies often do, climbing up to the nipple and latching themselves on, this also helped breastfeeding for us tremendously as we had so many ;latch issues and all the help in the world wasn’t as good as her crawling or falling to the nipple and trying it herself.

Anyway, my topic of choice today is about play and safety and…basically, what do I do with my kid? I had a friend ask that recently and was thinking it isn’t necessarily “easy” to know what to do with babies, toddlers or children…especially if, like my husband, you were always the youngest kid you knew and had rarely come within sneezing distance of a child under five since you were in kindergarten.

I practiced in raising my sisters, I still vividly remember nursing *my mom says smothering* my babies on the couch while my mother did the same with whichever sister was a nursling at the time. I remember poopy diapers…not sleeping… and then I sort of graduated to neighbourhood child entertainer for a while, always teaching songs and making up games and stories for the littler ones…then babysitting, day camps, children’s programs, daycares…and so I know quite a lot, and also am amazed at how much more I learn with my own child…my own very spirited, needing much stimulation and movement and interesting things and people child…

My “golden rules”

This one stolen from Sharifa Openheimer’s Heaven on Earth: “a broken bone is better than a broken spirit”

I say as well: dirty clothes/hands are better than a fearful, unengaged child

(a side note here, not enough sensory stimulation in the form of free play with natural materials, and too many “be careful’s! ” and “no’s” to exploration and movement will create children such as I have been surrounded with who are literally scared to sit on the grass in summer, and feel all ants should die (outside!) and have no respect for nature and prefer sugar to real nutrients…consider what might make your child more will full and challenging and dirty in the short term will make them street –wise, reverent, and healthy in the long term. Childhood sets the stage…a teacher can’t fully correct the behaviours you imprint and “practise” now…that is your job!)

The play corner in is very very easy and quick to clean up because everything has a designated basket/spot J

When I was working in a professional childcare setting I ran up against a lack of perspective on these issues continually. Children were allowed to climb nothing but the assigned play structure…things like big branches were “not allowed” because of safety concerns even though they engaged the boys in particular for hours on end. Digging large holes outside of the sandbox was not allowed, even though the children worked together (of all ages!) more than I had ever seen them do. And yes, many concerns about these “issues” were somewhat valid (what if they impale themselves, fall, break a bone, ruin their clothes, a cat poops in the hole, someone breaks an ankle…etc. etc…and under this what if their parents sue us!?) because that has happened quite often. I was supposed to write down whenever I hugged a child, and avoid ever being alone in a room with a child…in some ways I agree with this because it’s the culture we’re in, and it does protect me as the worker to some extent. However, safety at what price? Me racking my mind trying to creatively challenge children who had very little real play options left in a tiny fenced concrete area…who would act out by punching, kicking, and destroying equipment…they had so much pent up energy and anger… and maybe, could we not all think to ourselves, if my child falls in the hole the children are digging…even with children working on it for weeks (i.e. it became an obvious landmark), even with a huge dirt pile and tree beside it to clearly mark it, even with three adult workers and two volunteers supervising, even with large area to go around the hole, even with at least 2-5 children surrounding it at all times…and an ankle gets broken or twisted or what have you…maybe that child really needed to learn to be more careful! But I was ordered by licensing to put a stop to the hole… can we blame these children for then wanting the excitement and freedom a video game can offer? And those I was expected too I was expected to limit/take away… especially if they acted out, which was usually due to no other outlet…or sometimes boredom…despite all my clever stories and activities.

Do you feel like throwing your hands up yet? It isn’t even a particular centre’s fault, or staff, or kids, it’s more the system and regulations surrounding childcare, it is regulated to death and they are only becoming more stringent. Sometimes these regs do save children, but generally there are far too many to even really have much fun…no wonder we see so many childcare professionals burning out?! When they have to write 5 incident reports per week about children fighting, hiding, running away etc. I have been there.

It is funny to me to then read a book on Waldorf early childhood education, with suggestions to select a childcare setting that allows tree climbing, pounding nails into stumps, running down hills, sanding sticks, mud!? For children even younger than those I have usually worked with. In Waldorf I see an outlet for all my leanings as a childcare worker and parent.

So, ranting done, I will tell you what to do with your kids:

Best “toys”:

Open-ended, meaning as little “fixed” images/play value as possible

-chunks of a tree trunk/branch cut into rounds and other shapes and sanded

-keys, wallets with old library cards etc., purses, things with pockets and snaps and zippers

-random hardware like the coffee can of old brass hooks that our friend gave us

– A basket of stones, different sizes. Shapes colours…as sapphire has gotten bigger I have added more small ones and ones with some slightly sharp edges, I want her to learn her boundaries and safety herself…she has chipped a tooth carrying a rock near her mouth. However she reall6y learned from that and it’s a baby tooth…no regrets for me


-bit of fabric, yarn, play silks,

-dress up clothes… with a younger one year old to three year old I find structured hats like cow boy hats, strings of beads, scarves, small shoes like clogs, bangle bracelets, sunglasses etc.

-a mirror near the dress up area, full length if possible.

-odds and ends such as empty spools, jar lids (they spin nicely on the floor) bits of fat ribbon or lace

-thrift store kitchen items such as wooden spoons, nesting bowls, small pots, measuring spoons, etc. for playing kitchen, sand, and water play, or just banging around

More structured toys:

-a kite, a ball, a Frisbee, dump truck (I prefer wooden)

-a sandbox both indoors and out, or an indoor rice table

-as they get older things to take apart like clocks, remotes etc.

-garden tools, rakes, shovels,

-Kid sized broom (as soon as they can stand tots love this, in a pinch we sawed a wooden broom handle down to sapphire’s size and trimmed the bristles with snips)

-kid sized table (I just obtained this at a thrift store for 10$, then we cut the legs down to her size…it’s even handmade! I got the idea from Heaven on Earth as well)

-fat paintbrushes or pastry brushes for painting with water or mud outside

-large empty boxes, of course

All of this can be used from the time they’re babies right up until teens if you set the scene the right way and offer challenges as they grow, let them modify the environment/”build” and “create” more.

Once you have some of this stuff, and you can generally collect it gradually, we got most of sapphire’s stuff in big sales, as gifts, on craigslist or freecycle, and in thrift stores…

Sometimes, especially with first children or only children you need to “set up” the play…which could be as simple as setting out certain items from the toy shelf in an interesting way, maybe demonstrating the sounds/textures or actions possible but don’t get too involved… let them work it out and keep directing back to the play or try something else.

Another thing we incorporate into our day so very much is singing…that is really a post all on its own…but singing songs such as “you brush your teeth” and “this is the way we clean the floor/wash the dishes/do the laundry etc.”, to a lullaby before bed. The more chances your child has to touch animals and nature, feel air on her skin, see beautiful colours and hear interesting and beautiful sounds/words the better!

Nursery rhymes for littles are great…get a book, read them, and memorize some and toss them out there when they’re squirming in their car seat or you’re waiting in line!

Things to do and outings:

All ages but especially tots and babes:

-story time at the library

-visit the pet store

-the park/playground…even if they can’t walk you can put them in a baby swing or swing together in a big swing, they can crawl after ducks, they can slide down the slides in your lap or be caught by you…

-fly a kite, roll/throw kick a ball

-try wet felting

-visit farms…chickens, goats, lambs, and cows

-baths/water play

-bubbles, sidewalk chalk

-roll down hills, bear hug and roll across the carpet/bed

-sing or put on music and dance like crazy

-play an instrument…pianos are fun to play together

-go to farmer’s markets

-taste test veggies and fruits (add in a blind fold and make it a guessing game as they get older…even 12 year olds love this)

-catch frogs, fish tadpoles, climb trees (Sapphire does this with assistance or joins me on a branch for a bit)

-the beach or sandbox

-plant stores can be fun too

-fly that kite, kick that ball, and throw the Frisbee

-cook together…mixing pancakes, even ten month olds can help with that, knead bread, begin learning to cut

-run, run, run

-paint, finger painting, watercolours with big brushes also good for under 4’s you can even make edible paint with berries, flour and water

-let them watch and imitate and maybe help with building/fixing/ raking/gardening etc.

-celebrate festivals (and seasons)

Hopefully this kick-starts your imagination! With the older kids, we once had a “spa day” and I let them mix up various kitchen concoctions and apply them to my face and each other’s! It was amazing how long it continued for! All I supplied was a bag of lavender flowers and oatmeal, they did the rest!

Being with kids and having them does require you to grow, stretch…the ways this happens are myriad and depend on what our adult comfort zone is…it may be getting messy, trying something unpredictable and spontaneous, it may be singing, or letting your child or yourself explore just a bit farther or into slightly dangerous realms…it may mean learning to cook healthier meals, involving children in chores, setting limits, or providing freedom, but if we stay open and watch how our children and ourselves respond to our actions and environment, we can learn to be better parents.




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2 Responses to Play

  1. kandice fisher says:

    I resonate more with the continuum concept idea to just live my life and involve Ayla in it. Not segregate her from the adult world into a kids world that is fun but so unlike the adult world. Don’t get me wrong I love Waldorf and I love making some special days (when I have the energy and creativity) to do kids stuff.
    Creating an environment of beauty and stimulation just for her. But I find if I revolve my life around such things I get frusturated I feel too child centered and being a stay at home Mom, so much of my life revolves around her anyway just in care, attention, and love as well as meeting the myriads of needs that emerge as she gets older. But I am so grateful to hear your suggestions as sometimes it’s hard to think of stuff to do when life slows down a bit…..

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks for the comment Kandice,
    I think you may have misunderstood some of the post though. I actually don’t spend tons of time playing with Sapphire…many of the ideas are easily a part of your day …i.e. you’re makign soup, dump some lentils ina bowl and they will “work” beside you, or as I said, let them help woith meal and food prep, and as I mentioned even a ten month old can do this. Waldorf and continuum concept agree with each other in many, many ways….that’s why i say, if you must “set up” play, leave it there, most of us don’t live in true tribes and communities any longer, our only and oldest children are not surrounded by older children who can model play to them, so we often do need to set out some stuff…gathering sticks or rocks on a walk for kids to play with couldn’t be easier…is indeed easier than buying pre-made plastic or even wooden toys. You’re right that i put much thought into it, because of my background and because it’s my passion, but that is not required.
    Some parents talk about being their child’s play mate…i do NOT advocate that! set out wsome sticks, have the environment simple…ie. a cupboard they can grab stuff from while you cook. As they get older they move into an imitation stage, not so much into being on our backs and watching passively…this post is to address that new stage, as i have seen parents struggle with it. Sapphire is woven into our lives nearly seamlessly, but with no other relatives, kids etc. around she sometimes needs an environment to set things up. You do not need to spend lots and lots of time or money or energy setting your environment, however environment is lie a teacher to a child so awareness of it is important….we should talk more on this…I think you see my post through a lens of a perspective I’m not representing. right now I’m writing on the computer, I set out a basket of ribbons and knitting needles for sapphire to use. If I’m washing dishes I may plunk her in the sink….

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