May 5, 2017

Anji Play: Let's talk about Play Materials



 What is it that makes Anji Play so special?  Well, it’s a number of things, but for today, let’s talk about the careful curation of play materials.  You might notice that I’m not using the word “toys” here and that’s because, at least to me, “toys” so often mean single-purpose, closed-ended playthings and the materials used in Anji Play are often things that are used by adults too – ladders, planks, blocks of wood, sand, paint, clay, cardboard, etc.

When I started doing Anji Play programs outdoors at my library, I thought I’d need to add in a new plaything each week in order to keep it fresh for participants, but over the course of the summer, I realized that the new elements drew a lot of attention each week, but that often meant that there wasn’t as much repeat play from week to week and repeat play is KEY to the learning process. 



When kids encounter new materials, first they must explore the material – what are its characteristics? What can it do?  What can I do with it?




Second, they experiment with the play material.  If this is a truly engaging material, this experimentation stage can take years of repeat play, of kids trying to do new things with the same materials.  Finally, over time, they achieve a sense of mastery of the material—a deep and abiding understanding of the properties and possibilities afforded by that particular plaything. If I am constantly introducing exciting (distracting) new materials, kids never get much past the exploration stage and the play stays superficial and expected.  If you want to see really deep play and innovative ideas explored don’t be afraid to offer the same materials week after week after week until the kids demonstrate mastery (hint: sometimes this can look like boredom, but other times it can lead to imaginative play where the kids spend less time on "how" and more time on imagination -- less time building the house, more time playing in the "house").


For my indoor program which had, obviously, much less space than my outdoor program, I had to curate the materials quite carefully.  I wanted there to be a block play area, some gross motor equipment that would be challenging but not so big that it takes over the room, and some sort of open-ended, fine-motor/art area.  I also wanted some materials that infants could engage with as well as materials that could be enthusiastically and creatively used by older children. 


 I’ve used the same materials for the last few months with only small additions and changes here and there over time. 

My indoor materials for the Winter 2017 season were:
  • wooden AnjiPlay blocks (generously on loan from One City Early Learning)
  • a plastic wading pool filled with tulle, scarves and inflatable play balls,
  • large, sturdy cardboard tubes in 6” & 12” lengths (carpet tubes, a dumpster score)
  • small to medium cable spools (scavenged from local tech companies)
  • ropes
  • bungee cords
  • clamps & clothespins
  • bedsheets
  • rocks, paintbrushes & water sprayers (Dec. only)
  • clay, blocks & popsicle stick (Jan-April) 
  • cake decorating turntables (on the clay table)
  • a few small wooden blocks (used on the clay table)
  • pop-up tunnels
  • Gonge “tops”
  • The large cardboard box the Gonge tops came in
  • Markers
  • Roll of paper on low tables
 
 Towards the end of the series, I began whittling this collection down.  If there were materials that the kids weren't using, I stopped putting them out and no one seemed to mind.  There never felt like there was a lack of things to play with and I don't think I ever heard a kid say, "I'm bored." I hope to be able to add more AnjiPlay specific materials as the years go by because I've seen how the quality and depth of play increases dramatically when the kids can use these special materials, but for now, these simple materials, gathered from different sources, seemed to work well enough.

Apr 26, 2017

AnjiPlayDate #13: Wrapping it up for the season

Our final play date for this series!

Today, two of the rotating cake stands were overlapping for awhile.  
 You can see here where one kid figured out that when one stand was moved, the other one rotated as well:

AnjiPlayDate #13
I was waiting for more play to develop along those lines when, suddenly, a helpful adult intervened:

AnjiPlayDate #13 
I know the intentions were good, but .... this is why the Anji Play rule for grown-ups is "hands down."  I set it up again with the stands overlapping, but the kids no longer took an interest in it because now it was something I had intentionally set-up (and it wouldn't have felt really authentic to me if they HAD played with it at that point).  Sigh.

Instead, they were deeply engaged in the clay itself today for the first time in awhile:

AnjiPlayDate #13



Love this stack of clay:

This little one needed to get closer to the action, so she just climbed right up on the table.  Stayed there awhile too, playing quite peacefully.
And check out this beautiful "bird head"


AnjiPlayDate

We made loooong tunnels today!
(my mistake -- apparently they are MAGIC tunnels!)

AnjiPlayDate

And the big box finally got ripped!  It was used first as a slide,

And then as a hideout with a sneaky window:
And this little one was back and trying on bucket hats again!
Out in the children's reading area / block building area, there was a lot of action going on.  Here's two small examples:

Knock it down, build it back up!
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What do you think this triangle might be?
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A view of today's Play Story table:
Here's an interesting play story where he asked his mom to label all the parts, but then drew through her words with a marker.
One final shout-out of thanks to my amazing volunteer, Jane.  She is a retired preschool teacher and her assistance with this program has been absolutely essential.  I am so grateful that she is a part of this endeavor!
Finally, if you participated in any of this season's AnjiPlayDate programs, we would love to get your feedback about your experiences.  Please take a moment to complete this survey.  Your replies will help us to improve the program for next fall.

We are busy finalizing details of this summer's Wild Rumpus program.  Locals, mark your calendars for Mondays (east side/ Reindahl Park) and Wednesdays (west side / Haen Family Park) from 4:30-7:00.  The food carts will be there or you're welcome to pack along a picnic dinner.  See you at the park!

Apr 4, 2017

AnjiPlayDate #12: "Parents become learners of their children"

We split the group again today and that was still a good idea.

This was the first time I've seen anyone try to make a ramp with the pop-up tunnels.  Sorry for the blurry photo, but she didn't stick with this idea too long today and I only got this one shot.  I'm curious to see if this idea goes anywhere in future sessions.
 This little guy built a tower of tubes several different times.
after it got knocked down, he built it again, then explained to his mom that it was a campfire (see the red part?)


AnjiPlayDate
This was his play story from today:

"This is my camera!  Click!"
Also, there was a lion:

AnjiPlayDate

This is what happens when you spin the clay REALLY fast!
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And this is what happens when you stop the spinning from underneath the plate part:
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And this is what happens when it gets a little loud (kiddos regulating their own environment):
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 I saw quite a few instances of parents reading to kids during the program today, both in the meeting room play space and out in the Children's Reading area play space.

 "Look at our long road!"
 Check out this doll house!
I love how she's incorporated this puzzle from the children's reading area into her play:

AnjiPlayDate

 A group of kiddos spent a long time working on this:

AnjiPlayDate



 And then more joined in to make it even more elaborate.
 I like this new technique for carrying a bucket (with a bungee cord hooked onto your shirt collar).

AnjiPlayDate

we also had a few older kids join us while they were on Spring Break and look what amazing things they can build!


AnjiPlayDate


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This was an innovative way to put away the tubes!

here are two more play stories from this week with some really rich language!


In one of the parent journals this week, a mom wrote,
"Why do we strive to do this different kind of parenting during Anji Play?
to give children play freedom,
in a safe place
where risky play is allowed,
conflict between children runs its natural course
& where parents pause from being teachers of their children and become learners of their children in their loving observations."

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