Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wooden Doll Sets...and a deeper discussion on managing toys

Q got a few of these great wooden doll dress-up sets for Christmas! She is having fun exploring them and learning some great vocabulary and fine motor skills. These activities are definitely very age-appropriate for her, with one modification. Typically they come with too many pieces. Which is a nice problem to have, and very simple to solve! I take out about half of the pieces, put them in a ziplock that is marked with what set it goes to, and store it in our learning cabinet. This enables her to manage the amount of pieces--to play with them without becoming overwhelmed, to be expected to clean the set up (realistically toddlers are only aboue to clean up about 8-10 items without losing focus) and then new pieces can be rotated in to add interest over time. I spent one whole day working with Q's new Christmas toys and learning tools and about half of every set was put away, leaving only a managable number out to work with.

Note: Toddlers (and even preschoolers) have to "inventory" everything they work with before they get down to the actual business of working. You've seen them do this with crayons or markers. They have to take every crayon and make a mark on the paper before they actually start drawing. In play kitchens they want to empty everything out and shuffle the items around before they can actually get started pretending to cook or wash dishes. If a new child comes over to your house, you'll notice they rifle through all your toys, examining (or throwing or tasting) EVERYTHING before they can settle down to play. This is, of course, a normal developmental behavior, but if the environment is overwhelming or has too many choices, it can hamper the child from actually working or playing at a higher developmental level (such as pretend play).
Same thing with choices--if it's snack time you'd never make this offer to your child:
"Do you want cheese, or pretzels, or yogurt, or raisins, or cheerios, or a muffin, or some toast or apple slices?" Too overwhelming. Instead you give two, maybe three choices at a time, which is managable for a toddler brain to process, consider, and decide upon (most of the time.....)
The same is true for toys, books, and play items. Children need an environment that offers choices, but not an overwhelming amount of choices. So feel free to pare down, put away, move out, and only offer a few items at a time, neatly organized and displayed at your child's level.
I applaud a friend who told me this weekend that she temporarily put up her children's play kitchen for a season of time, since she is choosing to offer other play items. Because of this conscious decision, she is making the play kitchen a learning tool and not just a piece of ignored furniture. :)
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