play

  • 4 Benefits of Play Dough

    Hi guys! It’s Chelsea, the Founder of The Dough Project, here to talk about the awesome things that come from playing with dough.

    But first, a little bit about me and my background in early childhood education!

    I started The Dough Project as a preschool teacher in NYC. Year after year, making dough was my go-to classroom hack. It was fun and easy to make. Even better, fun and easy to play with, build with, squeeze, smush and share again and again.

    After witnessing the magic that came from playing and creating in my classroom, I knew I needed to make it easier for families to recreate that experience at home.

    The Dough Project creates a world of kid-powered playing with jars of fresh playdough and DIY Mixes that come packed with everything you need to make your own dough at home. We use only all-natural ingredients and color from plant-based sources.

    So, what’s the deal with dough?

    Used on its own, with clay tools or loose parts, dough supports imagination, conversation and growth across developmental domains. When you watch children play with dough, without any agenda of your own, you’ll be amazed.

    At past dough parties, parents would be in awe watching their kids play. We’ve heard a lot of “wow, he’s so into it” and “I’ve never seen her sit this long” in our day.

    4 Benefits of Play Dough

    Speech and language

    Playing with dough facilitates conversation as children narrate their work, problem solve and tell stories. It’s a great way to introduce new vocabulary. Most importantly, it’s a wonderful opportunity for you to listen. Play quietly, they’ll talk to you.  

    Cognitive skills

    As children play and explore with dough, they begin to understand early quantitative concepts, like “a little” and “a lot.” They also begin to learn about geometric shapes, measurements, and balance.

    Fine motor skills

    All that squishing, mushing and rolling strengthens muscles and develops hand-eye coordination. These skills are critical for early writing and self-care, like getting dressed! 

    Self-regulation

    Similar to the relieving effects that come from squeezing a stress ball, playing with dough is great for little ones to calm themselves down, release energy and express emotions.  The sensory experience is grounding and can be very soothing. It’s the perfect way to unwind and reset. 

    And if you still need more convincing after all that, try out our all-natural, non-toxic dough made with just five ingredients!

    Use code PLT10 for 10% off your first order of dough. Then, watch the littles in awe as they play and create a whole new world with dough.

    About The Dough Project

    The Dough Project is on a mission to get both adults and little ones to think outside the jar. Using only all-natural ingredients (things you can find in your own pantry) and color from plant-based sources (like those beets you used in your salad), The Dough Project is obsessed with creating products that are high quality and safe, so kids can explore and play freely.

    The Dough Project believes playtime should be easy, enriching and well, fun. After witnessing the magic that came from playing and creating in her preschool classroom, Founder and CEO Chelsea Milkman wanted to make it easy for families to recreate that experience at home. The Dough Project creates a world of kid-powered playing with jars of fresh playdough and DIY Mixes that come packed with everything you need to make dough at home. So when you open a jar of dough or a box of the DIY Mix, you’ll instantly get inspired by the feeling of endless possibility.

    About Chelsea Milkman, Founder

    As an early childhood educator and Founder and CEO of The Dough Project, Chelsea Milkman is on a mission to make playtime easy, enriching and well, fun!

    Inspired by the values held at the core of her preschool classroom for 10+ years, Chelsea built The Dough Project on the foundational belief that kid-powered playtime is essential for learning and cultivating creativity—both in the classroom and more importantly, at home.

    Using all-natural and plant-based ingredients, The Dough Project encourages process based play through jars of fresh playdough and DIY Kits complete with all the ingredients you need to make dough at home.

    Want to create a more purposeful play space? I invite you to join us with our purposeful play space course.Get ready to transform your play space, gain back your own time, and help your kids play independently!

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  • The Environment Shapes Play

    The benefit of an organized play space

    While it may seem counterintuitive to spend time creating an organized and thoughtful play space for kids who seem determined to destroy everything in their path, there is reason to do so.

    Early educators often talk about the environment as “the third teacher.” This just means that our children’s environment has a big impact on their learning and development. The environment shapes how kids play.

    You want to avoid these two mistakes when designing the play and learning environment:

    1. Overloading with toys that leave little to the imagination
    2. Organizing in a way that doesn’t encourage purposeful and independent play

    A poorly planned environment can detract from your child’s learning.

    How does the environment actually teach children?

    Simple.

    Urie Bronfenbrenner, psychologist and founder of the Head Start Program in the U.S., explains that the child impacts the environment.

    Since the child influences the environment they are influenced by the environment. 

    A good learning environment will encourage children to engage in a variety of explorations. These explorations should be based on their individual preferences and needs.

    Creating an amazing play space for your child doesn’t have to be expensive or overly time consuming. And you absolutely don’t need a dedicated playroom to create an environment that invites play. 

    Children need a space that is beautiful, simple, and organized. This is the type of environment that encourages discovery and exploration. It is this curiosity that teaches them the most. 

    We place enormous value on the role of the environment as a motivating and animating force in creating spaces for relations, options and emotional and cognitive situations that produce a sense of well-being and security”

    Malaguzzi, reggio emilia

    Enroll in Purposeful Play Space to transform your space into a place for purposeful and independent play.

    3 Ways to Create an Environment that Supports Development

    Incorporate a variety of sensory experiences.

    Make sure you provide toys and other activities that give your child many sensory opportunities. You want them to be able to touch, smell, and hear in a variety of ways.

    You can provide musical instruments, or something as simple as pots and pans to bang. Wooden blocks and blocks or building materials with different textures are a great addition.

    You can create a sensory bin filled with rice, sand, or water. Sensory bins are a simple way to introduce a variety of textures to your little ones.

    Create a space that supports the specific preferences of the children in that particular environment.

    Think about what makes your child tick. What types of activities do they gravitate towards? Try to provide toys and experiences that help support those specific interests and consider how you can expand on those interests.

    Make sure the environment is rich in content.

    This means having a variety of different types of reading materials available. Make trips to the library to bring home books about a wide range of topics.

    Read out loud and listen to audiobooks. Encourage your children to ask questions and help them find answers.

    It’s important to understand that a children’s environment should be a place that sparks collaboration, communication and creativity.

    Want more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhoodwhich you can buy here for only $4.99.

    Do you like this post? If so, check out some of these related articles.

    Make Organizing Your Play Space a Priority

    Outdoor Play: Why Does it Matter?

    Type of Play for Development

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    Top Toys to Encourage Outdoor Play

    The Power of Play   

    Read More

  • Child Play Therapy

    What is Child Play Therapy?

    First, child play therapy is an evidence-based practice for working with children in mental health. This type of therapy uses the natural language of children and the power of play to help children process their feelings and experiences. 

    However, child play therapy is not the same as regular, everyday play. Spontaneous play is a natural and essential part of the developmental process. While play therapy is a very specific approach to treating children.

    How Play Therapy Helps:

    • Increasing their self-esteem and confidence.
    • Encouraging children to problem-solve their own challenges and build autonomy.
    • Providing a place to speak freely, be seen and understood.
    • Teaching communication skills to connect with others in a positive way.
    • Teaching them to understand their emotions.
    • Finding new skills to calm their bodies and brains.
    • Normalizing their experiences in the world.
    • Helping them feel like they are not alone.

    The Natural Language of the Child

    Often times children can’t articulate their stress or challenges until they are much older. This means we need to be realistic about how our children communicate. 

    The natural language of a child is play. 

    For example, play allows for expression and learning to happen in the lower more developed parts of the brain, also engaging the higher level cortex (cognitive part which is still developing).  

    Play is the way! 

    When a child plays, the toys they use are their words. The play is the story. 

    The story that is being worked out, processed, and incorporated into their developing brains and psyche. 

    Children can communicate and process their experiences through play. 

    Furthermore, play therapy is built on a relationship with a therapist who understands children, how their brains work, knows their developmental expectations, and how to best communicate with them (and their parents!) to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working together towards optimal growth.

    Play does it all, so encouraging free play and engaging a child in play therapy hold many benefits for long term gain.

    Making Sense of the World

    Children are impacted by the world around them in more ways than we know. 

    And children are experiencing this global pandemic in ways that only history will tell us. 

    Adults frequently hide or shelter children from the news, but we know that whether or not children SEE the news, they know that something is wrong.

    Also, they are able to SENSE the stress and impact the world has on their primary caregivers and that alone makes them feel anxious and afraid. 

    Children are observing the world around them and trying to make sense of it.

    Again, play Therapy offers children a safe place to process those experiences, ask those questions, and make sense of the world around them. It is in play therapy that healing and prevention can occur.

    It’s important to note that taking care of a child’s emotional and psychological world is just as important as caring for the health of their body and teeth.

    Lastly, child play therapy is an amazing form of treatment for children of all ages and can be beneficial in helping children work through difficult emotions and experiences. If you believe that play therapy would be helpful for your child and want to find a Play Therapist in your area you can visit the Association for Play Therapy here.

    To schedule an appointment with Olympia Therapy click here

    This article was written in collaboration with Cary M Hamilton LMHC, RPT-S, NCC, CMHS, CDWF and Sarah Moran LMFT, RPT

    Want more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhoodwhich you can buy here for only $4.99.

    Do you like this post? If so, check out some of these related articles.

    Make Organizing Your Play Space a Priority

    Outdoor Play: Why Does it Matter?

    Type of Play for Development

    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

    Top Toys to Encourage Outdoor Play

    The Power of Play   

    Read More

  • Encouraging Independent Play – When Your Kids Aren’t Used to It

    Encouraging Independent Play – When Your Kids Aren’t Used to It

    “Hey mom, wanna play Legos?” your son calls to you one morning. Truthfully, you don’t want to play Legos. You have other things on your to-do list, and even if you didn’t….you don’t want to play Legos! Shouldn’t he be able to play by himself? He’s five years old – are you asking too much of him developmentally? The simple answer is no, but let’s dig a little deeper.

    What Does ‘Play’ Really Mean?

    ‘Play’ can mean many things – experts divide it into three categories:

    • Social play – children play with one another or with an adult – throwing a ball, for example
    • Independent play – children play by themselves – pretending, doing a puzzle, etc.
    • Guided play – children play using props set up by adults, usually with an end goal in mind

    How Does Play Help With Child Development?

    Play is invaluable when it comes to child development; here are several tangible benefits:

    • influential in healthy brain development
    • critical part of fine motor and gross motor development
    • necessary for learning to negotiate and solve disagreements
    • helps children discovering new interests
    • essential for both expressive and receptive language development
    • crucial for social-emotional learning

    Encouraging independent play is important! The value of solo play specifically is rooted in skills of independence and imagination. A child playing in a self-directed way feels competent and capable – and isn’t this the end goal of raising children? 

    When Can I Begin Easing My Child Towards Independent Play?

    Short answer: sooner than you think! 

    It’s important, first and foremost, to consider the age and developmental stage of your child. Older children can be expected to play alone for longer periods of time than younger children. A six-month-old child, for example, may be able to play independently for about five minutes, while a one-year-old might play for fifteen minutes. 

    Obviously, these times refer to children who’ve been ‘trained’ for independent play. If, with no indoctrination, you tell your five-year-old one day to ‘go play’ and you’ll come check on him in an hour, he will likely have a problem meeting your expectations.

    Getting Started with Independent Play

    There are several variables to consider when guiding your child towards independent play, including environment, toys, routine and monitoring. 

    Step One: Check Your Environment

    To encourage independent play, the environment will be a safe space for children to explore. This area will not include breakable chachkies or pointy-cornered glass tables. It’s difficult to encourage independent play when a parent is hovering and constantly telling the child ‘no’. 

    The bedroom, living room, family room and even kitchen can be suitable play spaces as long as safety comes first. Think of all those pots and pans in the kitchen just waiting for little hands!

    Will I Need to Buy All New Toys?

    Not only are fancy toys unnecessary for independent play, they’re actually detrimental to the whole process. Open-ended toys breed success in independent play. Wooden blocks, balls, Legos, magnets, and more are good examples of open-ended toys.

    Open-ended-toys can be used in many different ways. A block can be stacked as part of a building, or it can be used like a cell phone or a microphone. There’s no ‘wrong’ way to use a block (as long as you’re being safe). 

    When considering whether a toy is suited for independent play, consider how your child might use it.  If there is only one way to use the toy (an electronic keyboard, for example), save it for a session of guided play.

    Although one might say an iPad or smartphone has many uses, and is therefore suitable, electronics are not appropriate for independent play. Electronic devices may encourage boredom in children, as they are an ongoing source of stimulation. 

    When children become accustomed to blinking lights and lots of activity, it can make it difficult for them to transition to coloring or playing with blocks.

    Step Two: Time IN

    What is ‘Time In’? It is intentional time spent playing with your child with no distractions. Put away your cell phone or device and set a timer based on the age of your child. For an infant, start with five minutes, and if your child is five years old, set the timer for about twenty minutes.  

    Tell your five-year-old child, “I’m yours for twenty minutes – what should we do?” Then simply follow their lead. Don’t correct, coach or teach. Go with their ideas, and be present.

    When the time is up, tell them what fun you had, and how you need to go do your work now. Tell them you’ll be back a little later. Then, twenty or thirty minutes later, check on them. You may need to stay in the same room initially.

    When using this routine with an infant or toddler, you must stay in the same room. That being said, as your child is playing independently, be sure to busy yourself with another task. It’s not ‘independent play’ if you’re still involved.

    An Independent Play Routine

    Like anything you teach your child, independent play must be practiced over time. Don’t expect to try it once and have your child be an expert right out of the gate. 

    Additionally, don’t expect a three-year-old to acclimate to this practice immediately. Independent play is a quicker success story the earlier you begin the routine.

    Monitoring

    You will be observing and checking on your child during independent play. What are you looking for exactly? Flow is the ultimate goal – that state of mind where you’re so involved in something that you forget yourself. 

    Flow is a wonderfully gratifying state of mind for all ages, and it’s certainly possible for a preschooler to attain. 

    Final Thoughts on Independent Play

    Independent play is a worthwhile goal for you and your family. It may take a while to become comfortable in this routine, and there will undoubtedly be stops and starts along the way.

    Give yourself, and your child, lots of grace along the way, and keep in mind that the ability to be alone and entertain one’s self is a lifelong skill. Most of all, enjoy the journey!

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.
    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:
    Outdoor Play: Why Does it Matter?
    Type of Play for Development
    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play
    Top Toys to Encourage Outdoor Play
    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)
    The Power of Play
    Risky Play for Kids

    Read More

  • Open-Ended Play: Its Value and Characteristics

    Open-Ended Play: Its Value and Characteristics

    Open-ended play

    “Go play!” Have you ever spoken these words to your child? Turns out you’re not being selfish – indeed, by urging your child toward open-ended play, you are looking out for his best interest. According to Jean Piaget, “Play is the work of childhood.” 

    Swiss scientist and developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, who died in 1980, educated the world as to the cognitive development of children. Piaget believed that children take an active role in the learning process, essentially performing experiments all day long.

    Like little scientists, they interact with the world, making observations as they go about their days.

    Children continually add to their knowledge of the world via these interactions, sometimes building upon existing knowledge or adapting previously held beliefs. Piaget held that, rather than being ‘little adults’, children have inherently different methods of thinking than adults.

    Furthermore, there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in the thought processes of younger versus older children.

    Based on Piaget’s theory of child development, and knowing that children learn EVERYTHING from their environment, what, exactly, should parents put in that environment? What should children play with?

    Toys Matter

    There’s certainly no shortage of toys available to purchase. Go to WalMart or Target, and you’ll be inundated with loud, colorful playthings at every price point.

    How about a doll? Or a drum set? What will your child learn from that – how will a doll impact your child’s development?

    Let’s talk about the best choices in toys.  This article isn’t a resource for buying specific toys, but rather it’s an explanation of open-ended toys, their purpose and value.

    We’ve all been the parent cleaning up after our preschooler’s birthday party. Gathering wrapping paper and packaging, plastic silverware and half-eaten, frosting-heaped cupcakes.

    Surveying the room, now filled with new playthings, we see our wondrous, already-gifted child, playing……..inside a box. THAT – that box – is an open-ended toy.

    Open-Ended Toys are Ideal

    How on earth, you wonder, could a cardboard box, whether open-ended or not, have more inherent play value than a scientifically-researched, state-of-the-art, $50 toy? WHY is my kid more attracted to that BOX than he is to this top-ten-parent-recommended plaything?

    Great question. The answer is perhaps less complicated than that cardboard box. One word: options.

    Open-ended toys have limitless options, while that $50 electronic keyboard has exactly one function – to play music. Valuable? Of course! What fun it is to play music! A keyboard will produce hours of melodic (read:noisy) fun…until it doesn’t.

    Either it breaks, the batteries wear out, or the child gets just plain tired of it. Or someone (not you – of course, not you) hides it.

    But the box? You will have to wrestle that box out of your kid’s hands.

    As in, literally have to throw it out when your child is out of the house.

    You may even resort to taking that box to your mother-in-law’s on trash day so that your kid doesn’t ‘rescue’ the box and bring it back into the house.

    So we’ve established that this box has lots of value as a plaything. What, exactly, is your child learning, developmentally, while playing with a box? What does open-ended play mean, anyway?

    Fine Motor Skills

    Ripping off the remaining wrapping paper and tape is great exercise for small fingers and hands. Perhaps your child will decorate the box using crayons or markers – maybe even paint. All of these activities strengthen those muscles that enable a child to hold a pencil, tie shoes, grasp a crayon, move a bubble wand, and zip a zipper.

    Gross Motor Skills

    Crawling, jumping and running through and around the box improve your child’s gross motor skills, as does balancing and mastering an obstacle course. Every time he climbs into or out of that box, he is getting stronger and more proficient at moving his body!

    Social-Emotional Development

    Your child might have siblings, and they might play with that box together. What a great opportunity to build social-emotional skills like working together, sharing, compromising, negotiating, empathy, sympathy, etc. It’s a BIG job to manage your own feelings! Inevitably, conflicts will arise – how will your child get through these conflicts? Will he talk, cry, whine, hit, or something else? Each time he navigates a disagreement, he learns tools for the future!

    Language/Literacy Skills

    Deeply connected to social-emotional skills, language skills are necessary for all of us to get through the day. We communicate verbally as well as non-verbally. Has this box suddenly turned into a bus? Through pretend play, your child will use language to test out new words relating to buses! Drive, horn, honk, exit, money, seat, etc. – what fun he will have trying out this new vocabulary! Language and literacy also refers to the written word, which might involve making tickets for the bus, or writing the name of the bus on the side of the box. Maybe your child will need a name tag because he’s the bus driver!

    Cognitive Skills

    Your child will be solving problems and making decisions in his own head before you hear one word of it! Where does his bus go? What’s that one song people sing about a bus!? Oh, yeah! ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round…’

    Does your child focus on creating his bus? Is he busy for thirty minutes solid before coming up for air? Or maybe he’s distracted by so many ideas at once. Open-ended play can be changed immediately by your child – with no adult help!

    Imagination

    This is where a box beats out a keyboard every time. On Tuesday, your child is ‘driving a bus’ with that box. By Thursday, the box has turned into a castle, and your child is the king. Your dog is a knight. Imagination has no limits.

    THAT is the value of a box – or, really, any open-ended toy. No amount of technology can do for the developing child’s brain what a box, a pile of clay, or a tub of wooden blocks can do.

    Tell your gift-giving friends, and remember this on your next visit to the toy aisle. You don’t need expensive toys – nor do you need a lot of toys. For engaging, self-directed learning to happen in your home, you need toys to encourage open-ended play.

    If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.
    If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:
    Outdoor Play: Why Does it Matter?
    Type of Play for Development
    100 Simple Things to do Outside With Your Kids
    Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play
    Top Toys to Encourage Outdoor Play
    7 Essential Playroom Spaces (and why you need them)
    The Power of Play
    What I’ve Learned about Early Childhood Education

    Read More