Hello lovelies! This week’s Discover & Explore theme is “Forest,” and it has been so tough to choose a topic for this post! You see, even though we don’t technically live near a true forest, nature plays a big part in our activities on a daily basis. Most of the stories we tell are set in the deep dark woods. We do nature art, art in nature, and talk and read about forest animals (bears are the fan favorite at the moment). When it’s not 900 degrees outside, we love to explore wild areas and wooded trails. So, to say that I had tons of ideas for this post is an understatement. But as usual, I discovered that when I just CALM DOWN and tune in to the kiddos, they will lead me in the right direction.
A few mornings ago, I gave the twins some scrap foam, dowel rods, and wooden beads for poking and threading. And what do you think they came up with all on their own? A forest! They even asked me to find their forest animals for pretend play. Based on their interest in building their own forest, I decided to create a forest-themed invitation to play with loose parts.
I set up the invitation during nap time on our antique chest in the entryway, which is the same low place I used for our spider learning table. I kept it pretty simple and used things I already had on hand. First, I created some trees using thick sheets of patterned scrapbook paper and wooden clothespins. I freehanded the tree shapes and used hot glue to secure them in the slots of the pins. The trees were the most involved part of the whole invitation, and they took me about 15 minutes to create. I arranged them invitingly on a flat basket on one side of the table.
Next I placed a few carefully chosen loose parts in two small baskets. The twins request these colored floral marbles often (top photo below) and are really into patterning with them, so I included them in the setup. I also added some natural elements and figures that I hoped would encourage pretend play and/or storytelling in another basket (bottom photo). The peg people and wooden apples are from one of my favorite shops, Mama May i, and are colored with all-natural dyes.
Finally, for the main part of the table I set out a mirror to define the play area (I used circles of duct tape on the bottom make it less likely to slide off the table) and placed a heavy leather bowl (an Austin thrifting score) and lump of natural play dough (recipe from The Homemade Play Dough Recipe Book by Cathy James) on top. To suggest a possible way to use the loose parts, I placed a single tree in a small ball of dough on the mirror next to a path of colored stones leading to the bowl, where I placed one of our peg doll friends.
Once the twins woke up from their naps, they wasted no time diving right into the materials on the table, pajamas and all. True to the spirit of an open-ended invitation to play, even though I arranged the materials suggestively, they were free to explore and use them however they wanted.
Will enjoyed arranging the marbles into lines and shapes and spent lots of time commenting on their colors and grouping and regrouping them in different combinations.
Below, Sydney is carefully matching “mama and baby bears” of the same colors into a large “fabily” group. This was a collaborative effort between the two of them; you can see will in the background saying “Here’s the boo baby, Sistuh!”
They also got the hang of planting new trees in the forest with the play dough pretty quickly- pretty soon they began placing them on top of the “mountain”, too!
Both kiddos enjoyed smushing the marbles down into the play dough, getting in some good fine motor work as well.
An amazing amount of pretending and storytelling happened while the twins played with this invitation. Both kiddos are becoming increasingly proficient at coming up with their own stories, typically mixtures of stories I tell them and events from real life, with sprinklings of their favorite characters from cartoons and books. On this occasion I sat quietly off to the side with a pen and paper and documented their little stories along with observations about their play to use when designing future play activities and invitations. For example, I saw that they are still very interested in colors- commenting on them, sorting, and patterning, so I will definitely keep color as an important element in the future. Both spent lots of time talking about family groups and Will is particularly interested in emotions (he kept talking about how the bears felt sad or scared or happy), so those are definite themes to explore further in our play as well.
The twins played with elements of this table from the moment they woke up from nap until dinner time (nearly three hours), and then again between dinner and bedtime. Will used one of the baskets to create a cozy bed of rainbow rocks for his beloved tarantula, complete with “friends” to keep him company and an apple if he gets hungry in the night.
The Homemade Play Dough Recipe Book
If you love play dough as much as we do, I highly recommend that you check out The Homemade Play Dough Recipe Book written by Cathy James of NurtureStore. It is a super creative e-book packed with amazing ideas regarding all things play dough, including:
- all the recipes you need for the activities in the book including non-cook and cooked play dough, gluten-free dough, salt dough, modeling dough, and real bread.
- ideas for 52 weeks of loose parts play, in a printable poster format
- a whole year of play dough activities, arranged seasonally. There’s an idea for every week of the year including sensory and imaginary play, storytelling, art ideas, small worlds, math activities, reading and writing ideas.
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