How many times have you heard your child say, “Look what I did…Look what I found” with delightful amazement? The discovery of an interesting flower, rock, or button may seem inconsequential to adults but can become the basis for great opportunities for thinking, problem solving and fun.A walk in the trees, a pile of rocks, a button box, or a stack of empty boxes…what do these all have in common? They are all the rich “treasures” of childhood ready to be discovered and explored by your child.
Choose Open-Ended Building Toys
Children can turn anything into a toy. In fact sometimes the things we think are not all that interesting…such as the box the toy came in… actually can be of more interest after awhile. Why is this? It is because most toys have a direct purpose and use but the box is open-ended. Children can get tired of a toy but anything can happen with a box! It can be a cave, a house, a hat, a car or a treasure chest. Flexible and varied use is one of the key elements to look for in purchasing toys for your child. A toy that can be used in many different ways will last longer and build your child’s brain. Look for building toys that invite your child to explore, create, take apart and build again. Each time your child uses building toys he or she is creating a new world that requires an awareness of symmetry, balance, structure and stability.
The famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright once said that he always kept a set of wood blocks in his office and he continued to explore them throughout his illustrious career. You are never too old for blocks!
Good Toys to Choose:
• Wood blocks of many different sizes and shape. (must be a large and diverse collection)
• Duplo, Lego and other “fit together” building toys
• Gear toys
• Large cardboard blocks for building kid-size structures
• Toy animals, people and vehicles to use with the structures
Choose Science Exploration Toys
Children are natural explorers. Toys that help your child observe, compare, and experiment are essential “tools” for learning. Children see the world around them as uncharted territory needing to be discovered. What did you like to explore as a child? Children naturally explore that which is around them. For me it was a combination of the stream in our backyard and our walks in City. One setting was quite rural and the other very urban. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences. I used to enjoy finding new seedlings poking up out of the ground in the back yard…marvelling at their delicate leaves and stems coming out of the ground. I will never forget the day we were walking in the City when I discovered a persistent seedling pushing its way up through the pavement of the side walk! How could this be I wondered? How could something so fragile move something so solid? Happily, my siblings were curious too and when we got home we experimented by planting several bean seeds under a variety of surfaces…rocks, paper, cardboard, metal,cotton, etc. We carefully watered them and amazingly those little seeds got through most of the surfaces we chose. Ah… the power of nature.
Each time your young child explores a new toy she is using the essential science skills of observation, prediction and experimentation…she just isn’t using those words to describe the process! When children explore they naturally “notice” something (observation), wonder about it (prediction) and explore their wonderment (experimentation). These experiments build your child’s scientific, critical and creative thinking skills. Studies have shown that these “process” skills are what make the facts children need to learn in school have more meaning and use.
Good toys to choose:
• Unbreakable magnifying glass
• Magnets of different sizes
• Prisms and viewers
• Bubble solution with different wand shapes
• Science Kits
How can you encourage this heart of discovery in your child? Start with “noticing” things yourself. When you are out and about with your child remember to stop periodically to just notice what is around you. If you see something interesting…point it out. Invite your child to notice it too. By engaging in “Noticing”…you will be providing your child with a good model for the art of stopping, looking and listening.
• Ask: “What do you see? What do you notice?” Critical thinking is developed when you ask your child to examine the “precious treasures” that she finds. Invite her to describe what she sees. Encourage her to look at it from different angles and viewpoints. This is the essential beginning step of “Observation” in the scientific method.
Of course, a toy is only as good as how it is used. Much of what is learned from a toy has to do with your personal interaction with your child and the toy. Children need encouragement and stimulation. The questions you ask and the ways you participate are essential to building thinking skills. This does not mean showing your child how to use the toy. It is about watching and supporting your child’s exploration with good questions and support.
Here are a few examples:
Most children don’t need to be encouraged to wonder. That skill comes naturally. In fact, sometimes we can get tired of all the “why” questions children ask. But you can support their wonderment by stopping and listening to their questions. Best of all, you don’t always have to know the answers. Ask your child what she thinks. Be willing to say, “I don’t know” and “Let’s find out”. Don’t forget to ask some of your own questions. You will be demonstrating your own curiosity and developing hers.
• Ask questions such as: “What do you wonder? What do you imagine? What do you know? What do you what to find out?” Good open-ended questions such as these validate your child’s sense of wonder and give her some sense of direction with her wondering. By asking what she already knows…you naturally lead to what she wants to find out.
Of course, “explore” is probably your child’s middle name! Young children want to touch and try everything they see. Often at this age children need to touch to find out. It is important to provide safe materials and place for her to experiment with her “treasures”. Shells, rocks, buttons, boxes are all great themes to explore at home. Your child might want to start a collection. I still have my rock collection from childhood… and it has GROWN!
• Ask, “How many ways can you?” Flexibility of thought is an essential ingredient of exploring with creative thinking and problem solving. And it all starts with an open-ended question. Invite your child to explore “how many ways” she can use a particular “found treasure”.
So the next time your child shows you something she just created or found, instead of saying “That’s nice, honey” or wondering what to say… try one of these ideas or questions to keep her creative and critical thinking going.