How to Set Up an Open-Ended Playspace for Your Kids - Maileg USA
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Here We Are At Home Pt 2. Let Them Play.

March 26, 2020

 Educator, Administrator, Writer, Mom to 4, Guest Contributor to the Maileg Blog

Part 2 of ??  Here we go!

I love teaching. I started teaching in the first grade; everyday I came home and taught my little sister how to do math. I am not sure I understood it myself, but she was a good student and I loved using the chalkboard. I got my first teaching job at a Montessori school after college graduation. I loved the beautiful glass jars with marbles and colored water. I loved the glass beads for teaching math. I loved that there was a right way to do everything. The classroom was beautiful and orderly. The children worked peacefully and followed the teacher’s directions.

When I started to homeschool, I tried to replicate the order and rules that I enjoyed at The Children’s House. I imagined that during “school”, we would operate like we were in a classroom. First, sort the pompoms by color into a lovely tray. Now let’s trace the letter of the week in the sand. My eldest was four, with two siblings behind her like stair-steps, 2 years old, and a babe in the sling. I was excited. I planned for a morning circle time with my favorite stories and songs. I set up a tray with beautiful bottles containing the marbles and colored water. I explained the rules, demonstrated pouring carefully and wiping up the spills. She loved the bottles, and the marbles, and the colored water. She did it the right way! Success!

And then I left her on her own for a moment.

While I was in the other room, she brought her dolls. There was a tea party. I stood, torn between the ideal and the reality. Can a tea party be a bad thing? Every day I ran up against a similar obstacle. I had lesson plans. My daughter had great ideas. I had a schedule; she had inspiration. Should I really stop her from pretending? Drawing? Telling stories? Reading and re-reading her favorite books?

Setting up your children's work space.

When we school-at-home, there are many distractions for parents and children. Little brother wants to build a block city. The baby needs a clean diaper. Your boss calls. The dogs bark. You might set up the perfect learning opportunity, get interrupted, and come back to find… she learned something else. Being at home is not the same as being at school. Trying to set the same rules at home is artificial and creates unnecessary battles. So, let go of the strict rules.

 Instead of trying to create a school-like structure at home, use your environment to offer great choices for the day ahead. Maria Montessori calls this the prepared environment. Remove the things that undermine learning. Your space can be rich with learning opportunities. Where will the children have school? Where will they play? And, most importantly, what do you want them to have access to during the day? Start here. 

We are plunged into this new reality of work and play suddenly and with little time to prepare. Most of us will have to put spaces to multiple uses. Simple changes will make a big difference. Remove as many distractions as you can (but keep baby brother and the dog…) and add supplies for learning and play.

Think independence! Create a school space, with a shelf for each child, a place for books, notebooks, and tools. They will also want a table or a desk. At my house, one large table in the school room (read dining room) sufficed for most of the day. When someone needed their own space, they found a corner elsewhere. You want them to be able to do as much as possible on their own, without interrupting your video calls, emails, or classes.

Choose the right supplies and toys for your kids(and your sanity).

Once you have set up the work space, put away the things that will inspire power struggles. Put away (or save for special occasions) electronic toys and remote controls. Keep the toys that require adult help out of sight during the school day. Definitely put away toys that make noise. They will absolutely drive you crazy when you are working from home!

Choose toys and materials that promote self-directed play and creativity; put these within reach. Place the blocks, costumes, stuffed animals and dolls in a central spot. Make sure they can reach the paper, scissors, crayons, and tape. Make a batch of homemade play dough. Create a knitting basket and teach your child to finger knit.

The prepared environment gives your child freedom during the day. When it is time for a break, they can choose a healthy activity. Children who engage in self-directed play will be better able to focus. For young children, play is just as important as schoolwork. Play builds the attention span, problem-solving skills, and resilience. And your children can play when you need to finish a proposal, an email, or a call. Design your space, and let them play! 

Thanks again for reading! We hope you are all doing well out there, balancing this craziness. 

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